Archive | August, 2017

Sporting Misfortunes

29 Aug

Over the weekend I have had not one but two sporting misfortunes.

On Saturday I dragged myself out of bed early and decided to go for a long run in preparation for the half marathon that I am running in Cardiff at the start of October. I was completely mentally and physically prepared. What I didn’t take into account was that my bra strap would break after 2km!

I thought about turning back, going home and changing but I thought if I do that the likelihood that I will just stay at the apartment and not bothered doing the rest of the run would be about 100%. I hid in a bush and tried to rectify it in some way but it was no use. I did the British thing and kept calm and carried on.

Of course, I couldn’t run as fast as I normally would do but I kept going and did the distance that I wanted to. These “longer” runs that I do in the build up for the training are important in terms of distance, and not really in terms of time. Good job in this case!

It is entirely possible that I have a wardrobe malfunction on the day of the half marathon. Then I would only have the option of carrying on or stopping. It’s good training for an unexpected event on the day.

The second hiccup also involved clothing in a round-about way. I was in Luzern on Sunday to play a friendly hockey match. Push-back wasn’t until 5.30pm so I was already expecting to be home late.

After the game we discovered that we were locked out of the changing rooms. The door to the building automatically locks as soon as it is shut. The opposition hadn’t told us that we needed to bring the key with us or we wouldn’t be able to get back in. So we were outside and cold while our clothes were inside with the showers!

No one seemed to have a spare key, not even the President of the club had a key. After phoning round we called a locksmith and got a pizza delivered to the pitch. By now it was getting cold and I’m sure that I was really smelly as well.

Just before the locksmith arrived, it was discovered that a teacher who lived nearby had a key. So we avoided a hefty invoice to get in for a shower. Note to self: don’t leave anything in a changing room again.

When we finally got back inside the key was lying there on a table in the changing room. It was gone 11 by the time I got home. So much for an early Sunday night!

Vienna: Day 12 and Reflections

26 Aug

On Friday not only was it time for school to finish, but it was also time to fly home. I went to the lessons in the morning and because it was also one of the teacher’s last days, she had brought in some cake for the class. If it wasn’t for this teacher, I don’t think that I would have stayed at the school and I possibly would have asked for my money back. Her lessons were fun and I have learnt a lot of words and phrases which will be useful in the future. I think that she could sense my frustration and so she said that if I wanted to doing some writing or exercises that I could give it to her and she would happily look at it. Of course, I took her up on this offer as I wanted to get my money’s worth!

When it was time to leave, I must admit that I felt sad to be leaving. The group that I had been in school with for the past two weeks was full of characters. I am not sure how else to put it. It was interesting to be with people with different experiences and nationalities. In a lot of respects I am jealous of those who are still there and will continue with the learning next week and in the weeks beyond. This is due to a few reasons. Mainly because I would prefer not to go to work on Monday. Also Vienna is a really nice place to be and there are about a hundred different things that I would have liked to do or see while I was there.

I am hugely jealous that other people have the luxury of time to devote to learning the language. One of the reasons to go away for two weeks was because it is hard to study while working full-time. After 8 or more hours at work, who wants to sit down and conjugate verbs for the rest of the evening, instead of doing something more interesting or fun.

 

Although I don’t think that I have made the progress that I was hoping for, my German has improved. I feel more confident about speaking especially. I was thinking earlier that I don’t think I have spoken more than 100 words in English for the whole time that I was there. That is an achievement in itself. Because there were only German, Austria and Swiss TV channels, I was forced to watch TV in German. Of course, I have German channels at home but I also have the huge temptation of BBC and ITV, which are easier to watch after a day at work.

I have been able to consolidate on some topics that I wasn’t sure of and this may help me save time in the longer term. As I have mentioned in a previous post, it is difficult to be able to benchmark myself when I take lessons alone, so it was good to see how I shape up against my peers. I am know considering whether to ditch the private lessons that I have been taking in Switzerland and take some group lessons instead, as this will give me more speaking practice and may help to give me more confidence in general.

Here is a short list of some surprising things that I have found out while I was in Vienna:

  • I speak German with a Swiss accent.
  • It is completely acceptable to have cake for lunch in Austria and no-one will judge you for it.
  • Austrian food is more than just Bratwurst.
  • Vienna is one of the most arcitecutrially beautiful cities I have ever visited, and I have visited a few.
  • Customer service is a concept that the Austrians are yet to embrace.
  • I actually like going for a run in the afternoon/evening, so long as the pace isn’t too fast.
  • Being a student is more tiring than it is having a full-time job.
  • I know more of Mozart’s work than I thought I did.
  • There are more famous Austrians in the world than just Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Overall an interesting experience and I was able to experience another city in the world at a more leisurely pace than I normally do.

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Vienna: Days 10 and 11

25 Aug

On Wednesday morning I was back in the school. Although it has only been less than 2 weeks that I have been in Vienna, I have definitely got into a routine that works well. I normally leave at 8.10am and take the underground for about 12 stops and then I walk for 10 minutes to school. At the beginning this was a lot longer. Somehow I managed to take a longer route but on the way back I noticed that I could make a few shortcuts.

In the conversation class we were talking about the preconceptions or clichés that exist for different countries. Everyone in the class is from a different country so it makes it really interesting when we have discussions about how things are different in our homelands. The different nationalities are: English, Swiss (from the Italian part), Slovakian, Russian, Czech, Italian, Iranian, Ukrainian, Polish and Japanese. I am not sure if you could get a more diverse group of people if you tried. Some of the other students are staying in Vienna for a longer time, some are here while looking for jobs and others don’t really know what they are doing!

In the intensive course there were only two of us because none of the other people turned up for the class. We did a funny exercise where we start to write a story. I had to write a thriller and the other person wrote a love story. After we had started the story we had to swap and finish the other person’s story. I was quite surprised at how good my writing was. The language wasn’t very sophisticated but it made sense. I think it was better some of my writing in English to be honest!

In the afternoon I was treated to more “excellent” Austria customer service. This time at the hairdresser. The hairdressers here are a fraction of the price that they are in Switzerland and also cheaper than at home. I was left waiting for more than 20 minutes. I was about to leave when they came over to wash my hair. They then put some intensive conditioning treatment on my hair and left me with my head in the backwash for about 15 minutes. It is bad enough having your head in these backwash sinks for the time it takes them to wash your head but after 15 minutes I was in agony. Again I was ready to walk out with wet hair. There was no apology or embarrassment. I think that this is just normal customer service here.

In the evening I had bought a ticket to a Mozart concert at the Vienna Opera House. I got a 50% discount with the language school so I managed to get a seat 8 rows from the stage for 25 Euros. It was a really good view of what was going on on the stage. The concert was a series of excepts of Mozart’s works. There was an orchestra and two opera singers. The conductor was a bit of a smug bastard but I guess that he was playing the part of Mozart well.

The concert was only for 2 hours but I could have stayed there all night. At the beginning it was a bit like being at a pop concert when the band play songs from their new album that you don’t really know and all you want them to do is to play the greatest hits. It is incredible that some of these songs were written in the 1700s and they are still loved all over the world today.

After school on Thursday I decided to have an art afternoon. I went to Schloss Belvedere and saw an exhibition of Gustav Klimt, who I didn’t realise was Austria until I arrived here. The exhibition was called Klimt and the Erotic Encounters. Some of the art wasn’t too far from being pornographic. Shocked would be a good word to describe my reaction. There was an exhibition in Kunsthalle, Zurich which had a part of Japanese erotic art. These paintings were in a sealed off rooms and there was a person on the door who was checking that only over 18s were admitted. Maybe Austrians are more liberal in this respect.

Later I went to visit the Hundertwasser Museum. The museum is home to the art of Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who was one of the most, if not the most, significant Austrian artists of the 20th century. I only came across his work when one of my German teachers gave me some of his pictures to use in an exercise to improve my ability to make descriptions. The museum is full of his work and it is interesting to see some of the projects that he worked on during his life. There was also a photography exhibition of a Canadian photographer called Edward Burtynsky on the subject of water. The photos show how the effect of humankind is affecting water sources. He uses drones as well as standard cameras to make impressive landscape pictures.

In the evening I went for a quick run and then packed. Tomorrow is the last day of school and I fly back to Switzerland and my own bed.

Vienna: Days 8 and 9

24 Aug

It was back to school on Monday. The weeks started a little better than last week because some of the grammar topics were topics that I wanted to revisit. The problem was that some of the explanations were not so clear. I think in the end it makes sense and I have a bit more practice.

In the afternoon it was time for my boyfriend to fly home. After he had left for the airport I decided to go for a run. It is infinitely easier to run with someone else. It doesn’t feel as lonely and you have someone to set your pace against.

When I run alone I have an internal monologue in my head going round and round to convince me to keep going no matter how bad I am feeling. I managed 10.7km according to my app. In actual fact the app didn’t start properly so I ran more than that. I was glad that I noticed after 400 meters and not after I had been running for 20 minutes. It happened to me a few weeks ago that I thought I had started the app but I hadn’t and when I came to the end and pressed what I thought was stop, the timing of the run started. Completely frustrating!

On Tuesday it was school again in the morning. In the first week the time seemed to drag a bit but now it was passing by at a pace. I have got used to lessons on my own so it’s interesting to have other students to speak to. Having private lessons had its advantages but it’s hard to benchmark yourself against your peers when you only talk to native speakers. At least this week has shown my that my speaking is not as bad as I thought. In this respect my confidence has received a boost at least.

After school I visited Berggasse 19 which is where Sigmund Freund lived and spent most of his professional career trying to understand the human psyche. The leaflet I had picked up from the tourist information must have been out of date because the entrance fee was 2 Euros less expensive than I ended up paying.

Although it was interesting to see the actual consulting room where he conducted his work, I was a little disappointed overall. I expected there to be more information about his theories and his work but it was more of a closer look at his family and working life. It was still interesting but I am not sure I would have made the effort to go if I had know his theories weren’t discussed.

A little later I visited ‘Time Travel Vienna’, mainly because I got a discount with the language school. The activity is described as a 5D experience through time from the Jurassic Era to present day Vienna. The activity was more aimed at children and we boarded a time machine.

The actual exhibition was very well done and there was a lot of information about Vienna from the Habsburgs to Music and Dance. I was pleasantly surprised as to how good it was.

Then it was time for home and to watch a film before going to bed to get some rest before the next school day.

Vienna: Days 6 and 7

21 Aug

Finally the weekend which means no need to get up early for school. However, the intensive German learning continued because we spoke for the whole weekend in the most part in German.

In my last post I was hoping for rain because the whole city was so warm and it needed to cool down. In true British fashion I will complain about the one thing that I was hoping for. It rained too much!

We left the apartment and it was already raining but only small showers. I had read in the free newspaper that there was an Oldtimers event near the Town Hall so we headed there. Just to be clear: there is a difference in what German speakers mean by an “Oldtimer” and what English speakers mean. In this case, I mean vintage car and not old people. My boyfriend is interested in vintage cars, especially British ones.

By the time we came out of the underground, it was lashing it down. I only had a rain jacket which turns out isn’t waterproof. We couldn’t find the event anywhere. Either it was cancelled because of the weather or we had gone to the wrong place. We then went hunting to find an umbrella so that I wouldn’t continue to get soaking wet through. By then I was pretty miserable so my boyfriend suggested that we go to the Sacher Hotel to try some of its world famous Sachertorte.

I was glad that we went, not just because I had an opportunity to dry off a bit, but also because the Sachertorte was delicious. The recipe was created in 1832 and the original recipe is still being used today. The actual price is relatively expensive but as it was a special treat and the surroundings were nice, it was nice.

I was slightly taken aback by the customer service. The waiter was not friendly when we arrived. All of the tables were taken and we were told “I don’t have any tables”. There was no sorry, or if you don’t mind waiting, we will seat you as soon as we can. I believe that this is just how Austrians are. They are known for being very direct with a little bit of arrogance on the side.

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It was incredible the number of people who were queuing outside the hotel to come in a try a piece of cake. I have no idea how many slices they sell a day there but they definitely make a tidy profit from it.

After that we joined a free walking tour. To make it a bit more difficult for me, we joined the tour in German. This is the first time that I had done a walking tour in a language other than English. I could understand most of what was said but at time it was difficult to understand what the tour guide was saying because the rain was beating down on the umbrellas. Even so it was good to learn some more about Vienna, the Habsburgs and the history.

In the evening despite the rain (and my protesting), we went running. Rather than go to the castle and back we found another route that was a bit flatter. I enjoying running in the rain a lot more than running when it is warm. I managed 9km but in the end I was a bit disappointed because I know that I could have run further. Anyway, 9km is better than nothing.

On Sunday we took a trip to Petronell Carnuntum. I had heard about this place from a student at the school. It is a Roman city about 45km away from Vienna. It was founded in the time of Emperor Tiberus and a significant military camp during the Roman Empire and it even had its own gladiator school. Some of the excavated wares were in unbelievably good condition. Even though the site is one of the most important sites in Central Europe, only 0.5% of the site has been excavated.

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The city is made up of 3 sites. One has a replica of a Roman villa that visitors can walk around, there is an amphitheatre which has a small exhibition and a museum. All of the sites are not together so we had to walk about 5km in total to visit them all. It was definitely worth it, especially as the entrance fees was good value to visit all the sites.

We had to be back in Vienna for 6pm because we had a table booked at Figlmüller. Figlmüller is home of the most famous schnitznel in Vienna. The Schnitznel is so big that it doesn’t fit on the plate. It was a good job that we booked in advance because the staff were turning away people every 5 minutes. It is so well-known that the tables are booked out weeks in advance. I love my food and I loved that schnitzel.

When we came to pay the bill the waiter asked me if I was American. I was wearing a Harvard T-Shirt so it was a good assumption. His second guess was Swiss. His third guess was Canadian. I told him in the end. He said that I had a little bit of a Swiss accent, which I have heard several times during my time here. I’m not sure what to make of that. I am pleased that people cannot guess my nationality from my accent because it means that I am not just saying German words in an English accent.

After eating a schnitznel the size of a plate it was time to go slowly home and spend the rest of the evening asking the eternal question: Why does the weekend always go so quickly?

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Vienna: Days 4 and 5

18 Aug

The past few days I have been in the school for the morning and in the afternoon explored the city a bit.

Although the themes in the class haven’t been anything more advanced a few topics have come up that I needed some extra practice on anyway.

In one of the classes someone asked if we come watch the German film Die Welle (The Wave). I had never heard of the film before but it was based on a real experiment that happened at an American school. The basic premise is that a teacher tries to prove to the students that, despite all the lessons that we think we have learnt about fascism, there is still a real danger that a dictatorship could once again happen in the western world.

Of course, the students all think that this couldn’t possibly happen but before they know it they are beginning to give the teacher (who assumes the role of the Dictator) the status of an idol and do whatever he says without questioning him. It soon turns into destruction and death.

Apparently the real experiment happened over 3 or 4 months and not a week like the film depicts and there was a bit of destruction but no death.

It’s an interesting topic to think about anyway but perhaps more so when I think about our friends over the Atlantic and the similarities that have been drawn between Trump and other famous dictators.

There is also a book of the same name which I will try to read in German, even though I much prefer to read the book before the film.

On Thursday afternoon we walked around the city. The city isn’t so big and it’s easy to work out all the different routes and shortcuts. I’m still really impressed with how beautiful the city is. The building are so elegant and the white marble against the backdrop of an electric blue sky with no clouds makes it even more impressive-looking.

The heat in the city is incredible at the moment and it was uncomfortable to walk around so much so we came back to the apartment to read and try to cool down. In the evening we ran to Schloss Schönbrunn again. We went a bit further than on Tuesday and it felt a lot better as well.

On Friday we had lunch at the apartment and walked to Schloss Schönbrunn. When we have run there, the grounds were already closed so we couldn’t have a look round.

The grounds surrounding the building are huge and it must take a lot of people a lot of time to keep the grounds looking so nice. It was a nice afternoon so lots of people and children were milling about.

In the picture you can see Schloss Schönbrunn and the surrounding area. Wandering around the grounds you would never realise that you were so near to a large city. You can barely hear any traffic noise. You could be anywhere.

The temperature is still in the 30s so it will be a hot evening tonight. Lucky (and only a Brit could say this) tomorrow it will rain! Yes! It needs to cool down a bit, especially as I have promised to go for a 10k run with my training partner/boyfriend tomorrow.

Vienna: Day 2 and 3

16 Aug

Day 2 in Vienna turned out to be a little unexpected. It turns out it is a public holiday here which meant I didn’t have to go into school. The holiday is to celebrate the Assumption of Mary, a holiday that is not celebrated in England not in Zurich (because it is not a catholic canton) but is in other parts of Switzerland.

As the weather was nice we went to the city and had a wander around. The city is different to what I expected. Firstly, there are so many tourists that it is hard to look at things or walk around without finding yourself inadvertently appearing in someone’s holiday snap. Secondly, the architecture is amazing. I am not sure if all of the buildings are original but they are magificent to look at.

The weather was around 32 degrees which was a bit hot for me so it was important that I kept drinking something. After a look around the city centre, we took the underground to Prater. I had never heard of Prater before but it is a large fun fair just outside of the city. Considering it was a public holiday it wasn’t overcrowded and it was nice to have a wander around and see what rides they had.

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Later we went to Donauinsel which is an “island” on the Danube. It was really cool there were lots of wide-open spaces for running, walking, roller skating and biking as well as places to bathe along the river and places to have a drink and something to eat. It still amazes me that countries have these facilities – it would never work in England. Ok, perhaps it would for one day when the weather is nice. The rest of the time it would be deserted and the deck chairs would have found legs and moved off to someone’s back garden.

In the afternoon, we came back to the apartment to go some work. I started to read a German book. I chose this booked because the chapters are no so long so you can just dip in and out of the book. Also, the story is made up of smaller stories belonging to different characters so you find out bits of information as you go along. I was surprised that I didn’t have to look up so many words and a lot of the book I was able to read without much difficulty.

We realised that Schönbrunn Castle is only about a mile and a half away so in the evening we jogged there and back. I say jogged but I was almost crawling at the end. It was a bit deceptive because at the start it was downhill but back it was uphill. I am used to running on completely flat surfaces, although I know that running uphill will get you a lot fitted than running on the flat. The run actually took it out of me. I haven’t run for around 10 days and I could still feel that I wasn’t 100% fit after my illness before I came to Vienna. But I managed it. Onwards and upwards!

Today (Wednesday) I was back in school and I was ready to complain. I explained that I wasn’t happy with the level that I had been placed at and I wanted to go into another group. I was just told that I would need to take the test that I had already taken again and see if I did better. I didn’t want to do this because I have a certificate that demostrates that I have already completed this level and at a high standard. Plus there is nothing from stopped them from not remarking the test and staying at the same class that I was in. At this point in the day I was thinking about asking to change to private lessons but I knew that this would mean a lot fewer lessons and would mean that I end up not interacting and speaking with many people throughout the day. This is definitely not the point of taking a holiday to come here and improve my German.

I went to the lessons while I was thinking about what to do. In the second lesson, the teacher ask me how I was finding the group. So I told her. I actually learnt a lot in her lessons (she takes the conversation group) so we learn a lot of new words and can speak a bit freer. I told her I had already spoken about my misgivings and she said that she could give me additional tasks to do while in her lessons. Thank goodness someone else has recognised that I shouldn’t really be in this group! She also asked what specifically I wanted to work on and she will bring me some things to do that I can do additionally.

For the moment I have decided to stay doing what I am doing and I can do the additional things as well. If I drop out of the course and take private lessons instead I will just isolate myself and not interact. I have been a bit unlucky with this happening to me for the second time. Luckily, my boyfriend is here to help me a bit outside of school. For this I don’t have to pay anything… at least I hope not!

In the afternoon we had a nice traditional Viennese lunch of Knödelsuppe (dumpling soup), Knödel und Eier (meat dumplings and egg) and a Viennese beer.

We also went to find Hundertwasser Haus. Friedensreich Hundertwasser is a very famous Austria artist who died in 2000. Until recently, I hadn’t heard of him. I was introduced to him when my German teacher in Switzerland gave me a copy of one of his pictures and asked me to describe it as part of an exercise. I really like his work. The Hundertwasser Haus is a house that he designed in a unique style. The outside is very colourful and I was surprise by how many people were there. The strange thing is that the house is actually inhabited by real people so you can’t go inside. It must be strange to live there and have so many tourists outside looking in. His art is in the nearby Kunst Haus Wien. By then it was getting late so it wasn’t worth paying to go inside. I will do it another day before I go home.

And just like that the day is almost over. Time for a bit of homework, a bit of relaxing. Then it is already Thursday.