Tag Archives: life

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.

Bratislava, Slovakia

13 Aug

After arriving safely in Vienna, Austria, I took the bus to Bratislava. The journey is only about an hour and I arrived at my final destination at around 8 in the evening. My hotel was a short walk from the bus station which I was happy about. I wasn’t happy 5 minutes later when the heavens opened and a huge storm hit. The rain was coming down sideways. I had to take cover under a tree until it eased off a bit.

The hotel was lovely and in a really quiet part of town. I was especially pleased to see that I had paid online a lot less (almost half price) of what I would have paid for the room if I had gone directly to the hotel. This isn’t always the case when you book through a third party but this time it worked in my favour.

On Saturday I went out early because I wanted to go on a Free Walking Tour. This one was a tour of the Old Town and the Castle. The tour was well-attended and the tour guide was a local. It was a very interesting and a good way to see the city for the first time.

I was surprised that there was no entrance fee to get into the castle. When I was in Prague I had to pay an entrance fee to get to the castle and when we were in Edinburgh it was about 25 pounds each for entrance to the castle and so we decided not to do it. I think that Bratislava might be missing a trick here.

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The view from the castle was impressive. It was possible to see not only the whole of the city but also neighbouring Hungary and Austria. This is a strange concept for someone who grew up on an island to get their head around. It was interesting to learn about the history of Slovakia and how it used to be a very important place during the time of Royal Hungary. It was the place where Kings and Queens received their coronations.

I was surprised to hear that nicest parts of the city were pulled down during the communist era as more importance was placed on the beauty of Prague, Czech Republic which was then unified with Slovakia. Bratislava was thought of as more of the industrial part of the country so some horrible buildings were erected and some beautiful ones destroyed.

I find it fascinating that countries that are so near to us were ruled by communism for so long and during our lifetime. I have never been able to get my head around why people subscribed to it as an ideology when it is so clear that not all people are the same. The guide explained that there are a lot of older people who say that life was better under communist rule. I can understand that going from full employment, not having to pay for health and education and not needing to save from retirement would have its plus sides. I can imagine how these people feel with no savings to fall back on and not being able to make a living after communism fell.

In the afternoon there was a Communism Tour which I was interested in going on but in the end I decided not to do it. I think 2.5 hours about communism would be a bit too much. Instead I went on another free tour which talked more about the history of the city, the politics and the future of the country. It was good to be able to learn something about a place that I had not been to before and knew so little about.

On the whole the city was really charming and beautiful so I can’t imagine how nice it used to be. By the afternoon the city was full with tourists and hen and stag dos, which is not so nice. Luckily, by then I had seen the city in its best light.

One of the best things about Slovakia has to be the food. I was recommended to try the traditional Slovak potato dumplings with sheep’s cheese. I was a bit sceptical and the dish didn’t look so appetising but it tasted really good. They also had a creamy garlic soup which comes in a hollowed out bread cob. You eat the soup and then you eat the bowl. This was also delicious and it saved on the washing up! Saving the planet: one garlic soup at a time!

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On Sunday it was time to pack up and make my way back to Vienna on the bus, after wandering around the city for one last time in the morning.

I had to wait until 4pm to get into the apartment that I had booked. I wandered around the city centre for a while but it wasn’t so comfortable with my backpack. There were so many tourists though. It was hard to look at anything without getting in the way of someone photo. I have plenty of time to explore so I wasn’t so bothered. I will go back when there are less people.

I made it to the apartment. It is quite a way from the centre but it is quiet but well connected to the centre. The apartment is a studio and has cooking and washing facilities so it means I can save a bit of money on food and eating.

Sunday was perhaps not the best day to arrive. Like Switzerland, there are no shops open in Austria on a Sunday. I was desparate to find some milk somewhere because I hadn’t had a brew in ages. I walked to a train station that is about 15 minutes away. I finally found the “supermarket”. It was a tiny little thing in the corner of the station and it was so busy that there was a guard at the entrance to the shop limiting the number of people who were in there at one time! I got my milk and got the hell out as soon as I could. It was like living in the Communist era again!

Back home and with my tea, I am gearing myself up for going back to school tomorrow. Wish me luck!

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Training hard again

10 Aug

At the start of October I will be running a half marathon for the first time in a long time. I was partly strongly encouraged to do it because my boyfriend is also taking part and it was partly my own decision because I desperately need a fitness goal to motivate me.

In 2012, I was in the shape of my life. I ran a marathon (not very fast but I did it nonetheless) after getting quite heavily into running. Since then running and the whole topic of fitness has dropped off my agenda, although it shouldn’t have because I felt so much better back then.

The hardest thing for me is not the running itself; it is the getting out of the door in the first place. It always seems like a pain to go running. I need to get changed, think of where I want to run and then get out of the door etc etc. The actual running I enjoy. I’m outside and feel pretty good. I don’t even mind if it is raining. A run in the cold, wet rain means a long, hot shower is waiting at home.

Of course, the road to a half marathon does not run smooth. Training was going relatively well. I was managing a long run at least once a week and was being sensible about increasing it a bit each week. I was even doing a bit of cross-training by getting back on my bike for the first time and cycling about 20km.

On Monday it went downhill when I started with a bad cold/sore throat/cough. I have been completely wiped out by it. I wanted to at least try to go for a short run but my body was telling me that this was not going to happen.

So instead of long runs in the countryside I have been lounging on the sofa feeling sorry for myself and trying every home remedy known to mankind.

I am finally beginning to feel better. I managed to leave the house this evening and go for an hour long walk. I was in need of some fresh air. Fingers crossed I can resume training in the next few days. There is still 6 or 7 weeks left for training which should be enough. If I stay disciplined and get myself out of the front door regularly- And that is a big if!

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Weekend again!

4 Aug

It’s finally Friday again. Although I was only working for 3 days this week, it felt like 4 weeks. So I am definitely ready for the weekend.

Last weekend I was in London and I did something that I had never thought about doing. I visiting the Game and Country Fair at Hatfield House. This had never been on my list of things to do but it was something on my other half’s list so I was happy to go along.

I am not sure what I was expecting but I thoroughly enjoyed the day. I have never seen so much tweed and Barbour jackets in one place at one time. I was beginning to think that it was a Guinness World Record attempt for “The Most Tweed in One Field” but it wasn’t.

I was also surprised how many gun manufacturing companies were exhibiting at the fair. I wasn’t really aware how popular shooting was in England. It is popular here in Switzerland but a lot of people have guns anyway because of the military service that young people have to complete. There were custom-made guns as well as antique guns. It was unique to see how the guns are traditionally made: starting with a block of wood and slowly chiseling it out into a recognisable gun-shape.

Of course, if there are gun there, you have to have a go right? So we did. There was a clay pigeon shooting activity. I was at a distinct disadvantage as my other half is a member of a Swiss gun club and I was not going to be tempted into a bet with him. It was actually pretty easy to get the hang of and we had a trainer who explained to us exactly what to do and how to improve our shooting. Unfortunately, it was all over too quickly, especially as we had waited in line for an age.

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There was also archery to try which, of course, we did. Rather than shooting at a target. We had a plastic deer to aim at. It was something a bit different. I have no idea how Katniss Everdeen from Hunger Games manages to hunt with a bow and arrow. It was hard to shoot a stationary target, never mind a target that is moving.

The archery sessions were run by a club who had come from Stratford in Warwickshire. They must have made a killing (no pun intended) on the sessions because they were only using their own time and had no other overheads as they already had the equipment. There were lots of people lining up to have a go. Might be a good business idea for the future.

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The rest of the weekend we met up with some friends of mine from university, who I last saw about 3 years ago when they were over in Switzerland on a trip. It’s nice to meet up with friends and just carry on from where you left off last time as if no time had passed since you last saw each other.

The rest of the weekend was nice and relaxing with a bit of shopping, a quick trip to the National Portrait Gallery and some nice food in China Town.

I have a feeling that this weekend will be relaxing but in a different way!

Happy Birthday Switzerland!

1 Aug

August 1st is the National Day of Switzerland which means that it’s a public holiday so no work today. Unlike a British Bank Holiday, the weather today is really good. It is meant to be around 34 degrees this afternoon, which is one of the reasons why I dragged myself out of bed early this morning to go for a run. Though to be honest, the mercury was pushing 24 degrees at 9am, which is still too hot for me to be running or doing anything at all.

One of the things that I haven’t got my head around is how the public holidays work in Switzerland. Today we have the day off work but if the 1st August fell on a weekend, as it did in 2015, you don’t get a day off on Monday to compensate. It’s just tough luck! I also find it a bit odd that the bank holidays take place on the exact date and aren’t moved to the start or the end of a week. It is a bit disruptive for companies and workers alike.

It’s a bit surprising that a country that is renowned for precision and efficiency isn’t very efficient when it comes to public holidays. It is a huge myth that Europeans enjoy more bank holidays than their British counterparts. At least in England you aren’t cheated out of bank holidays when they fall on a weekend. There would be rioting in the streets if that was the case.

Every canton celebrates today as the National holiday but, depending on where you live, depends on the number of public holidays you get. Zürich is a Protestant canton historically but in Tessin, a Catholic canton, they have more holidays because they follow the Roman Catholic traditions and, therefore, celebrate more feast days in like with the Catholic calendar. If I had’ve known that in the beginning, perhaps I would have decided to move another canton and maximise holiday time.

I can’t complain though. As I was running this morning, there were lots of agricultural workers in the field picking the crops that are ready to go to the supermarkets tomorrow. My day doesn’t have to involve anything to strenuous, apart from enjoying the fireworks tonight.

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Good news

24 Jul

To start the new week off I have some good news. I actually found out on Saturday after coming back from my trip with the Bernina Express but I didn’t have time to write about it. I passed my B2 German exam!

I am not sure that it was so much of a surprise because I had a good feeling about the exam on the day and I was well prepared for it. The surprise was that I had done less-than-expected in the writing part of the exam than I had hoped. I think that this could be partly due to the fact that I might have “over-practiced” this part and, as a result, I was probably too focused on trying to crowbar in specific grammatical phrases and structures, rather than focusing on the question that was asked. It is irrelevant though as I did comfortably pass that part any way and, as far as I know, no one is interested to find out the marks that you got in each of the four parts of the exam (reading, writing, listening and speaking).

Now the journey continues again. I will be carrying on with German lessons for the foreseeable future but only having one lesson per week instead of two. I think that I can save some money by focusing on areas that I am not too sure about in my own time and aspects, such as increasing vocabulary, I also have to do alone. Sure, a teacher can give me a list of words to learn but I have to learn and remember them myself. In this way, I will have some flexibility during the week to do other things as well as making improvement to my German skills when it suits me best.

I am aiming to speed up the learning process in a few different ways. I watched every single episode of a German comedy series in the run up to my exam, which I think helped me a great deal. The series was called Der Tatortreininger (basically, meaning The Crime Scene Cleaner). It follows the eventful working day of a man who is tasked with cleaning the blood and other bodily fluids from crime scenes one the police have made their investigations. It sounds gruesome but the actual series is more about the people that he meets during his working day and the people affected by the death at the crime scene. It is a comedy so it is very light-hearted and I really enjoyed watching it. I have found a list of other TV series that it is recommended for German learners to watch so I hope that a few of these are as entertaining as my first encounter with German TV.

I am going to try to increase my use of German throughout the day. I have already started to send some email in German, where possible and where I know that the receiver knows that I am trying my best to communicate and improve. There are also a few groups where you can meet with other people who are keen to improve their language skills. I will try to find one that fits in with my schedule and attend. I have also thought about the possibility of finding a penpal or someone that I can have a tandem exchange (where two people meet who have different mother tongues and they help each other learn together) either in person on via Skype. I have had some tandem partners in the past and they have been really beneficial.

In August, I will be going to Vienna in Austria for two weeks for an intensive German course. This is similar to the week that I spent in Munich in January but this time I am hoping that the course that I want to go on is available. I am looking forward to a “working” holiday and visiting Vienna, which I believe is a beautiful place, especially in the summer.

So onwards and upwards. It seems like learning a language is a never-ending struggle but I think I can see that the end is in sight…homework-1735644__340

Washing dilemmas

12 Jul

A friend brought a BBC news article to my attention this morning. In it, it is reported that there has been a huge backlash on Twitter about comments that Kirstie Allsopp made about the correct placement of washing machines in house. Apparently the British have been doing in wrong all along. Kitchens are not the place for a washing machine.

I have never thought about this before but it is only Brits, who typically have their washing machine in the kitchen. In American films always show the family laundry being done in a separate room well away from the kitchen. Apart from in Uncle Buck where the eponymous hero attempts to dry the socks in the microwave because he can’t work out how to use the tumble dryer.

Washing clothes in a room where you prepare food does have some unhygienic twists to it: both as the dirty clothes are going in and the clear ones are coming out. No one ever wipes down the surfaces are dirty washing has been sitting on the counter top before loading the machine. Well, perhaps no one who has been diagnosed with OCD.

In Switzerland, washing machines and the regulations of using them is where all the upstanding virtuous that you expect of the Land of Milk and Money are effortlessly turfed out of the window. The majority of washing machines are located in the basement, especially in older buildings. Of course, it is forbidden to washing during the night and on Sundays or public holiday. This rule is strictly enforced.

In order to wash, one of three things could happen: 1) you have a designated day to wash on and it’s obligatory that you only wash on this day; 2) you have to “register” by signing on to a rota in advance, and by advance I mean that sometime people sign up for a day 6 months in advance; 3) there is no signing up so everything is a free-for-all, which is problematic when you are single living in a house full of families, who are constantly washing and you can never find a time to casually slip your clothes in. This happened to me at my last apartment. Being one day from going into the office in tracksuit bottoms is not a great place to be.

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Woe betide anyone who uses the wrong day, forgets to register or is 5 minutes late taking the load out of the washing machine. I have heard reports of clean clothes thrown on the floor, washing cycles being stopped half way through and then the half-dirt, half-clean clothes thrown onto the dirty floor. I have also heard of people plotting to revenge neighbours when they have retaliated like this. I’m talking itching powder in underwear type revenge.

Luckily, I have never experienced this first hand and it seems that the machine is normally free when I need it. I just have to trundle down the stairs to get my clothes clean. Of course, I have no idea what my neighbours are putting into the machine and it does make me wince a bit when I think that other people’s dirty is circuling around and mixing it with my clothes that I am trying to get clean.

One option might be to put the machine on 90 degrees and get rid of all the bad bacteria. However, as I found out the hard way, hockey socks don’t wash well at this temperature. They are so small that I can’t get them over my shin pads anymore. Looks like they are heading for the bin. Can you imagine if I did this with all of my clothes? I am not sure if it would be a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, it would be an excuse for why some of my clothes are a little bit snugger than they should be. On the other hand, I will be back to contemplating the acceptability of wearing tracksuit bottoms into the office.

I am remaining adement that the next apartment is new and has it’s own washing machine. So long as it is not in the kitchen…