Tag Archives: Thoughts

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.

Trying to keep dry for a week!

28 Jul

For the second week or my mum’s visit, we weren’t so lucky with the weather. It has been unsettled for the past week but that is the downside to having glorious sunshine for so long. Sooner or later it has to break.

For a few days we have done little more than relax at home and pop outside when the weather looks like it will hold for a while. But we have been able to get out and about for a few day trips to cities nearby.

On Tuesday we headed out to Bern for the day. This was one of my mum’s favourite places when she came to visit last year. It is also one of mine, mainly because I always go to see the bears. The bear is the symbol for Bern and, in fact, Bern means bear. The bears are housed along the side of the Aare River. The conditions that they live in now are much better than in the past. We have been lucky that the last two times we have been the bears have been quite active. I have also been there at times when they just sit there and do nothing which is not so interesting. But you don’t have to pay to see them so I guess you don’t end up feeling disappointed if they are not in the mood for entertaining the crowds. After a wander around the old town and a hot chocolate in a nice café, it was time to get the train home.

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On Wednesday we went to Rapperswil, which is situated on the lake of Zürich but is actually in Canton St. Gallen. I used to regularly visit Rapperswil before I moved to Switzerland. This is where we used to stay if we came over for work because it was relatively cheap for the company to pay for and nearer to the office. It has been a while since I have been there though, so it was like discovering a new place. There is a small castle in Rapperswil which we walked around and on the side of the castle grounds is a small deer park. The deer are relatively tame and don’t seem interested in all of the attention that they get from locals and tourists alike.

On the negative side, a lot of the shops in Rapperswil were on summer holiday. This is a Swiss tradition that I haven’t got my head around yet. A lot of shops in tourist areas take off two or more weeks during the summer when more tourists are likely to visit. It seems a little counter-intuitive to me. As a result, it was a bit like walking round a ghost town. There is only so much that can be said for going window shopping.

Yesterday we ignored the weather forecast and headed to the Rheinfalls in Schaffhausen. I have visited once before and I had forgotten what a lovely quaint town it is. The architecture is different to other parts of Switzerland, certainly different to Zürich. After getting off the train, we walked the 3km to the falls. The Rheinfalls are the largest waterfalls in Europe and are close to the German border. Even though they are the largest in Europe, they are not even a fraction of the size of the waterfalls in Niagara. It is a relaxing walk from the station to in front of the falls and we managed it in about an hour.

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After a stop for coffee and some cake, we walked the same way back to the town of Schaffhausen. I was recommend to go to Murnot, which is a circular fortification from where you have a fantastic view of the surrounding area. It was pretty hard going. The steps up are steep and feel like they will never end. Once we got to the fortification, my mum had had enough. I carried on up the struture to get a look at the view. It was hard work but worth it. My mum was impressed with the picture of the view but not so much that she regretting not continuing up the structure!

After a wander round the charming town and buying a few more things from shops, we stopped for a beer in a local restaurant before we made our way back to the station and back home.

All too soon, two weeks are over and we will be heading to the airport this afternoon. It has been an interesting two weeks. We have both seen and done things that we haven’t done before. I have also enjoyed not working full time and having time to appreicate a bit more of Switzerland which is sometimes difficult when you are focused on work the whole time.

I am also flying to the UK tonight. But I am heading to London and, not Manchester, for a long weekend to, no doubt, see and do some things that I have done before.

Life after exams

14 Jul

After finishing my exam and having to wait for 4 weeks before I get the result, I am finding a life again. For the last 6 week to 2 months, I have been constantly preoccupied every evening trying to fit as many ridiculously long German words into my tiny brain and trying to figure out which prepositions go with which verb, that I had completely forgotten the sheer joy of not having anything specifically to do and now I have a list as long as my arm of things that I would like to do while I have a small break from lessons as well as exam stress.

As a side note on the subject of exam revision: there is a funny juxtaposition between the stress of learning for an exam, while having the realisation that there is no way that you will be able to learn absolutely everything so what is the point? in the back of your mind.

So now I have nothing specific to do and this has begun to stress me out a bit. I always feel a bit guilty if I sit around and do nothing and “relax” a bit. There is always something that could be done or something that you can see and doing the opposite, seems to me, to be a waste of time.

For example, I decided to watch a film last week. One was starting on Film 4. It was an Eddie Murphy film that I had never heard of and it was an easy-to-understand, kind of a feel good movie. At the end of it though, I felt a bit disappointed that I had spent 2 hours of my life, watching a not particularly great film, when I could have been cleaning the flat or doing something else productive.

Having said that, I have also spent a good deal of time watching this year’s Wimbledon and I haven’t felt an ounce of guilt. I could easily take a two week holiday to watch the tournament every year but because it is always at the beginning of July, I wouldn’t be able to because it’s our busiest time of the month at work.

I decided to bake a Raspberry Pavlova last week just because I had time to and I can’t remember the last time that I baked something. Transporting a delicate baked goods in the train was a bit tricky and I was so nervous that I was going to end up with an Eton Mess by the time that I made it into the office that I was guarding it like a sickly child. I had to stop myself from shouting out, “Please stand clear! I have a Pavlova and if anything happens to it, I will not be responsible for my actions!” It arrived intact much to the delight of my colleagues. I would go so far as to say that delight doesn’t even cover it. People were asking if it was my birthday, why I had made it and telling me what a lovely person I was for making it and bringing it in. Good God! I think this is the most praise I have ever received at work in my whole career and I am seriously considering the option of jacking it all in and taking up baking as a profession. The appreciation and praise is immediate and not just once a year in a job appraisal!

Yesterday I finally met up for lunch with a friend who I have not seen for a long time. We met 2 years ago at our first day in the company on the Induction Day and since then we have met up regularly for lunch. It is always nice with her because I feel like I am meeting up with a friend that I have known for years and years. Never any stress at all. Even though I am English and she is Irish, we have still never made it to the pub for a few drinks. In fairness, I am a bit worried that it will be a dangerous night if she gets me going on the Guinness. We have promised to recify that soon.

In the evening, I went to see Despicable Me 3 (in German Ich – Einfach unverbesserlich which really trips off the tongue doesn’t it?) with some friends. It was not as good as the first two films I think but was really entertaining. It’s definitely a film that helps you switch you brain off and have a good belly laugh. I can’t remember the last time I went to the cinema and I had forgotten how much I like the whole cinema experience. Shame it is so bloody expensive!

Later today my mum arrives for a two week stay. She seems to always come when the weather is not so great but I am hopeful that this time the weather will be better. A few of the girls at hockey training were complaining the other weather about parents coming to stay because they have to keep them entertained. I, on the other hand, like it. It means that I can save up things that I would like to do myself and then drag my mum along to come with me – whether she likes it or not. We have a few things planned and I am sure that you will hear about what we get up to if you check back here soon. Fingers crossed that the weather stays fine…

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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…

The Art of Escapism

4 Jul

In the past week I have attempted no fewer than 3 escape rooms. If you don’t know what an escape room is, then where have you been hiding? An escape room is a live adventure game which involves between 2 and 6 people being “locked” into a room and a series of puzzles need to be solved in order for the group to escape within a 60 minute time limit. I have put locked in quotation marks because there is always a way to get out quickly from the room if there is an emergency of any sort.

I began on Tuesday with a Prison Break escape room. This was a bit risky from the start because I didn’t know the people that I was meeting. I had come across this activity on the internet platform MeetUp. (This is basically a forum, where people can set up groups and activities so that anyone who is interested is free to join). If you know me, you will know that I really don’t have the patience for people making stupid suggestion and there were more than a few. The beauty of these games is that no specialist knowledge required. Everything that you need to escape the room is in the room. You have to solve puzzles and riddles. It reminds me of the Crystal Maze game which was on UK TV in the 1990s, but instead of an individual having to work alone to solve riddles, there is a team working together.

Part of the problem with playing this game was that we were 6 people. I think this is far too many people. It’s a too-many-chiefs-and-not-enough-Indians type of situation. People are looking at riddles that have already been solved and you have the same discussions with different people about the same thing which is time consuming and means that not everyone is up to speed on with the actual progress of the game. I felt like I did contribute the most – I unlocked a safe by using a code in braille within 2 minutes and I am still feeling a little bit smug about it.

The second game I did was with two good friends of mine and the room was called Steps. I am not sure why it was called Steps. The only logical reason I can think of is that you have to logically work through the steps of the puzzle to get the key and get out. But surely isn’t that the aim of all the games. I was a little bit disappointed that there were no references to the hugely popular pop group Steps in the room. Having said that, I am not sure that their influence has yet made it to Switzerland. Probably for the best.

I enjoyed playing this game because, as the game unfolded, it was clear that our individual strengths were all slightly different. By that I mean that what was instantly clear to one person was not to the others so it meant that we were able to make our way quickly through the puzzles without too much of a hold up.

This was the first escape room that I have ever escape without any help at all. Basically, if you get stuck on a certain puzzle, you can call or walkie-talkie a member of staff and ask them for help. As the game last only an hour and you have no idea how many puzzle there are ahead of you, being able to take a clue can be a huge help. This time we didn’t need it! And we escaped in 47 minutes! It wasn’t a record by a long shot. The record for this room was 28 minutes. I have no idea how people manage to do it so quickly because I thought we were fast. However, I think it was the beer that we had before doing the game that gave us some fluid thinking and creativity.

On Sunday I played my last game of 3 for the week. A colleague of mine has a slight Sherlock Holmes obsession (the BBC TV series and not the Arthur Conan Doyle books) and when I mentioned that there was a Sherlock room, her face lit up like it was Christmas. So I agreed to join her and her husband. The premise of the game was that Sherlock had gone missing and John Watson needs you help to find out where he is.

Using the clues in the room you have to book Watson a flight to the right location, date and time so that he can go and help Sherlock. This was the most hi-tech room I have ever played. We had to make QR code (though I am still not 100% sure what they are) and soundwaves to uncover a message. There was even a printer in the room so that we could use an iPad to print off the ticket for Watson.

The problem with this room was that it was hard. I mean hard as in only 10% of groups make it out in under an hour. We were up against it. We did take a few clues and some of the tasks really were difficult but we managed it! I was so happy – what a team! The best part was that we got out of the room and went to the reception. We stood there for a few minutes because the employees were busy with other customers. When one of the customers noticed us stood there, he looked like he had seen a ghost. I guess that he had already judged that we would not be part of the 10% who make it out. I am know considering applying to MI5 but I am not sure successfully escaping a room will be counted as necessary work experience.

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