Monday, September 29, 2014

September Highs and Lows

In August I briefly tried a weekly update based on an idea from another blogger, but after three of those I decided to change to what I used to do with my kids at dinner (yes, my kids and I had dinner together most evenings even when they were teenagers!). I'd ask them "What was your high today?" and "What was your low today?" Come to think of it, I may start that with them again despite the distance and that they are both in college. Highs and Lows: Facebook edition, perhaps.

Anyway, I thought for blog purposes I'd keep track of my highs and lows for the month, and publish at the end. So here we go...


  • Spending a long weekend in Vienna with my Schwiegermutter, where we met my parents who were there celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. It was fabulous! My parents were on a cruise with a group of friends from Sheboygan and several relatives, so in addition to it being a special occasion, it was fun to see 12 other people I knew from "back home" as well!

  • While standing in the middle of a square in Vienna studying our map, I happened to see a group of people walk past us with "Esslinger Feuerwehr" (Esslingen Fire Department) on the backs of their jackets! As I pointed that out to my Schwiegermutter, three of them turned around and looked back because they had recognized us!*  Those "small world" experiences always blow my mind. The number of things that had to happen at exactly the right time for us to bump into each other in a huge city...

  • During my Schwiegermutter's "Fun with English" (adult) course, one gentleman said to me, "You don't really speak like an American. I can understand you." My British Schwiegermutter replied, "Oh yes, although she's American, she speaks very good English!"  :-)

  • Receiving nine emails from my son, who has started college for real. He took classes last year at the local UW-extension, but now he's living in a dorm with a great roommate and doing well!

  • Finally - after five failed attempts this summer - participating in a guided city tour of Horb!

  • Trying a new roast beef recipe, which turned out to be delicious - due mainly to my husband's skills in the kitchen. It was equally good the next day, even cold.

  • Reading other expat bloggers' posts about traveling, everyday life, adventures, frustrations and successes. I still get excited when I see that someone on my "blog roll" has published something new, and we sometimes comment on each others' posts. Hm...I'm enjoying connecting with people. This is new...

  • Finding a message buried in Facebook from a former German exchange student (2004). She wrote to me in March, but I never noticed the "other" tab in the messages section of Facebook! I've finally responded and hopefully we'll connect. This was not a student who lived with us - rather she attended the school where I was teaching and was a student in my English (American Literature) class.

  • Dining twice at our favorite local restaurant and finding out the chef is doing another Kochkurs (cooking class) this fall.

Bäckchen vom Jungschwein in Schnittlauchrahmsauce mit Gemüse und Bratkartoffeln
Cheeks of a young pig in chive sauce with vegetables and fried potatoes

  • Sunday afternoon naps on the sofa during Formula-1 races. Who am I kidding? Afternoon naps on the sofa even on non-Sundays.

  • Watching this 10-minute clip of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I find him (usually) so darn funny, and I do miss his show.

  • An impromptu train ride to Stuttgart just to bum around the Big City. I explored places in the city I had not seen before - which isn't surprising considering that, other than my nature walk a few weeks ago, I have hardly strayed off the main Fußgängerzone (Königstraße). I'm getting more interested each time I go to Stuttgart!


  • While in Stuttgart I actually went shopping! This is unusual for me because I really don't like to shop except for books. I bought a new fall jacket and a pair of shoes I think even my daughter would approve of. And some books.

  • Martin made Wiener Schnitzel - the real thing, with veal rather than the pork we usually use. Holy heavens, it was amazing! Unfortunately veal is more expensive than pork €27 ($34) per kilogram versus €12 ($15) at our local butcher, but since the veal needs to be thinner than the pork, the actual price difference between 4 Schweineschnitzel (€6) and 4 Kalbschnitzel (€10,50) is negligible. Consider also that the Wiener Schnitzel my dad had in Vienna cost €23 and the fact that we got 4 meals (2 for each) out of what we bought that day...I can hardly count all the highs in this paragraph!!

  • Starting to discuss with Martin a trip back to the Isle of Mull in Scotland for 2015.
Glengorm Castle, where we were married

The view from our quarters


  • Hm. Uh...

  • Ok, got one! Changing back to my fall Federbett (down comforter) on September 1st after using my summer Federbett for less than one month. That's not really a low either, though, because it's so wonderfully cuddly!

  • Learning that cappuccino is spelled that way and not "cappucino," and wondering how many times I've spelled it incorrectly in previous blog posts.

  • Missing a response from the editor of our local paper asking if he could publish my feedback in the next day's edition because his email had ended up in my spam folder.  :-(

On the horizon for October...

  • We have nothing major planned. I'll be teaching the Englisch-AG twice a week and chaperoning the Lebenshilfe group three times total including a day outing to Freudenstadt.

  • Sleeping in on October 3rd because it's Tag der Deutschen Einheit - the Day of German Unity - a national holiday. Even M will take most of the day off!

  • Hoping to get in a walk from M's mother's place to the Grabkapelle (funerary chapel) Rotenberg, situated on a hill overlooking Stuttgart. This is a walk I fondly remember from my exchange student days. I remembered it being a several-hours walk through lush forests and fields. Google maps (which we didn't have back in 1986) tells me it takes about 45 minutes. Hm.

  • Most likely a day trip to Tübingen, since I've been itching to get back there.

  • Getting some serious writing done! I hit a slump in the summer when I had plenty of time and no excuses, and now it's time to get going again.

  • Yard work.

*I wish I had a great and funny story about why the Esslingen firefighters recognized us, but it's just this: the Feuerwehr hosted a group of visitors from Sheboygan, Wisconsin earlier this summer, and my Schwiegermutter and I accompanied and assisted the group.

What were your highs and lows this month?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Off Topic: A Game for Readers

Martin and I watched a short documentary tonight about men and women - about the differences between us, the ways our brains work, how we listen (Yes, men listen! They just listen differently!), our strengths and weaknesses, etc.. I think it was called "Brain Games." It was really interesting!

One of the challenges they did with pairs of women and pairs of men was having them guess book titles based on clues their partner gave. Their test was to see whether men or women could give clues using the fewest number of words. One guess which gender won that one... But it got me to thinking what a great game that would be for a group (or even just a pair) of readers! I geeked out just a little bit.

Here's an example from their test:
Woman: "Call me Ishmael."   (3 words)
Man:   "Ahab."   (1 word)
The women lost.

And one more:
Woman: "Spanish knight on a horse."
Man:  "Windmill."
The women lost again.

The game doesn't cost anything (because you're not going to count the thousands of dollars/Euro you spent on the books you've read), you don't need to buy anything new to play it, and the absolute best of all, you don't even need an app for that!!

So here are the rules:
 Get your partner to guess the title of a book using ONLY ONE WORD as the clue. Obviously you can't use a word that is in the title.

That's it.  Well ok, you could make it a little more manageable by doing it like this at first:

   One word   =  5 points
   Two words =  4 points
   Three words = 3 points
   Four words =  2 points
   Five words =  1 point
   More than five words = 0 points

But that's the wimpy version, and the points shouldn't matter anyway.

Obviously it helps if you and your partner know each other well, and know what books you've read. M and I tried out the game and succeeded with the following clues (without giving the answers):

 Beth: "Petunias"

 Martin: "Fish."

 Beth: "Raft."  (For this one I needed to add a 2nd word, but I won't give it here.)


You could do this with various topics, I'm sure - movie titles, sports, famous people, dog breeds, states or cities, musicals - whatever common knowledge you have. But of course I can't think of a better topic than book titles!

If you're raising an eyebrow and wondering why I'm getting so excited about this, I love games that challenge my mind, memory, imagination, and education. I especially like games that are not about winning, but rather about just challenging one's knowledge. My family has spent evenings playing trivia only with questions we make up ourselves, and no one keeps score. The rule is only that the challenger must know the answer without looking anything up, and the question needs to be one that the other person could or should know (again, it helps when the players know each other pretty well).

One especially memorable example of that game happened a few years ago at my parents' house. First you need to know that my parents graduated from Lawrence University in 1964, I graduated from the same college in 1991, and my daughter will graduate from there next year.

Dad: "What is Lawrence's motto?"
Beth: "Would you like it in English or Latin?"

However, in a more humbling moment, I recently bet my British Schwiegermutter, who loves reading historical fiction more than any other genre, that James I of England was the same as James V of Scotland. She said it was James VI of Scotland. I lost the €5,00. What the hell was I thinking?

Anyway. try it out with your reader friends and let me know how it goes!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Press 2 for English

We all know an American who has liked or re-posted a visual on social media about being sick of having to "press 1 for English" and probably has grumbled about immigrants (especially from south of the border) who live in the U.S. but don't speak English (well). I often wonder if they have ever considered the reverse situation. What about a U.S.-American living in a country where English isn't the primary language?

I have met quite a few expats lately from English-speaking countries through their blogs and mine, and while every expat has a bad day or a frustrating week from time to time, they all seem to be integrating well and are making efforts to learn German. Many of them write about the German courses they are taking as well as the very understandable frustrations of learning the language. I also met an American recently who has been living here longer than I have but has not learned more than a few phrases in German. She told me it's too hard since the people around her speak the local dialect, which is like a non-English-speaking person saying he can't learn English because he chose to live in Mississippi where everyone tawks fuuny.

I often wished, when I heard the "press 1 for English" message in the U.S., that I could press 3 for German. I don't know if the people who gripe about pressing 1 are annoyed that they have to press a button or because Spanish is an option for those who need it. Since I've never heard anyone complain about entering their nine-digit social security number or ten-digit account number, I suspect the latter.

When I have the option to speak to someone in English, do I? It depends. In a restaurant or store, absolutely not - not even when they recognize my accent and speak English to me. When I am face-to-face with someone, for instance in the airport, and am asked "Englisch oder Deutsch?" I say either is fine. But on the phone dealing with insurance, credit cards, problems with a plane bet I request English if I can. It is very difficult speaking a foreign language on the phone because you don't have the visual aids of eye contact, body language, and facial expression. You don't realize how much you rely on those cues until you try to speak and understand a foreign language on the phone. I am fluent enough in German, but if I have to deal with a problem on the phone and I'm not sure I will understand everything I need to understand, I am grateful when I have the English option.

I'd like to ask the Press 1 Protesters: Would you resent me for wishing I had the option to "press 2 for English" while I'm living in Germany? If you were in a country on vacation or for business where English is not the primary language and needed help with your stolen credit card, to change your flight arrangements, or medical help, would you not be grateful to have the option to communicate in English? Then what is wrong with a business or government organization in the U.S. (which has no official language) offering language options to phone callers? The complainers, I would imagine, would not enter a foreign country fluent in that country's language (if they entered a foreign country at all). I also would like to hear the quality of their English.

These signs*...

Way to champion English, folks!

This is my all-time favorite.

This attitude really grinds my gears. Why don't we embrace other languages? Why don't we improve our own language skills and not worry about which language others prefer to speak? If the only thing these people have to complain about today is that they have to "press 1," then they should consider themselves pretty damn lucky. First World problems, anyone?

Most people have heard this one:

  What do you call a person who speaks 3 languages?

  What do you call a person who speaks 2 languages?       

  What do you call a person who speaks 1 language?        
       an American

I sure would love to see that stereotype change, along with the attitude so seemingly popular in the U.S. that people who don't speak and understand English should "get out." 
This one really should end with something about God's love.*

*The writer should also take the time to learn about periods, commas, apostrophes and capitalization, but...whatever.

What about a campaign with protester signs and ecards that send the message "This is America, and our language is English. If you don't know the difference between its and it's, lay and lie, are and our, and your and you're or you think it's acceptable to say 'me and my friend,' get the hell out of the U.S." But where on earth would all those people go?

England doesn't want them back.

*I have tried to find the sources of these photos, but they have been used and re-used so many times the original photographer has been lost. They can be found through a search for "misspelled Tea Party signs."

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Wien / Vienna 4: Museums & Tombs

My husband says my posts are too long, and I can't very well disagree with him. I'll try to make this one both shorter and easier to skim through. I'll probably fail at the first, but let's see.

My MiL and I went to several museums, though I have a list of ones we had to skip that I want to see next time!

Nationalbibliothek - Prunksaal

It's like a church with beautiful ceiling frescos, a palace, and a library all rolled into one. The books...just....the BOOKS!!!
It costs €7,00 to get in, and I would recommend the audio guide for an additional €3 so you get some information about what you're seeing. There was also an exhibit while we were there centering on writing collected during WWI - journals, postcards, correspondence, essays, posters - which was very interesting but ends in October.

This is a working library. The books are in two layers, and the ones
tipped on their sides indicate that books behind them are in use.
Of course with bookshelves this high you
need tall ladders! There are 200,000 books
in this library

Karl VI had the Prunksaal built, and it was completed in 1726.
The frescos were painted by Daniel Gran
Ceiling fresco - the image of Karl VI is in the disc near the
center which is held by Hercules and Apollo. 

This is a schoolboy's essay response to the question "How would you defeat
the English?" The lad wrote that he would bring a soccer ball to
the field, and the English would get so worked up about playing
soccer and distracted that they could be easily defeated.

Kaiserappartements and Sisi Museum

These collections are in the Hofburg and your €11,50 ticket gets you into both as well as the Silberkammer (Silver Collection) and includes an audio guide. Unless you love staring at plates, dishes, goblets, and silverware, just walk through that one and spend more time in the Sisi Museum and apartments. You'll see replicas of some of her dresses, many personal items belonging to her, her travel medical kit, and the weapon that was used in her assassination. In the royal apartments you'll walk where Sisi and her husband Franz Josef once dined, rested, and tended to court business. You'll also see Sisi's scandalous workout room (her MiL and attendants were terribly distressed about Sisi's insistance on maintaining a vigorous workout schedule) and learn how her trademark knee-length hair was cared for.

One is not allowed to take photographs in these museums, but of course you can buy postcards in the gift shop afterwards.


The Kapuzinergruft is underneath the Kapuzinerkirche on the Neuer Markt. It is a crypt holding the sepulchres of 146 members of the royal family of the Habsburgs spanning three centuries of Austrian history. The ticket costs €5,50 and the crypt is open from 10:00 until 18:00. Pay the extra 50 cents for a guide showing you whose sepulchre is where and the family tree. Some may find it creepy, but I'd call it fascinating. Among many others, Sisi, Kaiser Franz Joseph, their son Rudolf who committed suicide in 1898, Maria Theresia (mother of Marie Antoinette), and Karl VI rest here.

Kaiser Karl VI

There is an alarm system in the crypt, and visitors are reminded not to touch the sepulchres. We heard it go off several times as tourists leaned over the iron fences to get their iPhones closer for a picture.

Photos are allowed, but visitors are also reminded that this is a burial place and they should be respectful. I cranked up my ISO and didn't use flash.
Sisi, Kaiser Franz Joseph, and their son Rudolf

Papyrusmuseum, Globenmuseum, Esperantomuseum

You pay €4,00 for a Kombiticket to visit the Papyrus Museum, the Globe Museum, and the Esperanto Museum, which are all part of the Nationalbibliothek. They are housed in separate buildings, but at the desk of any of them you can get a map showing how to find the others (they are not far apart). Ask at each place if there is an audio guide available and get one if you can (€2 - €3) - you can listen to as much or as little as you're in the mood for, but at least you'll have more information about what you're looking at. There are some explanation cards in English as well.

Correspondence regarding the Papyrus collection - the largest in the world

Globe Museum (obviously!) 

Catacombs under Stephansdom

You can only visit the catacombs with a tour which is given in English and German (everything the guide says in German he then says in English), but it only costs €5. The entrance to the catacombs is on the lefthand side of the sanctuary, and a sign tells you when the next tour is. You will see crypts, urns containing the entrails of Hapsburger royalty (their innards were buried here, their bodies in the Kapuzinergruft, and their hearts in urns in the Augustinerkirche), and rooms where the bodies of victims of the plague were laid, one which just looks like a pile of bones, and another where the bones were stacked and arranged (by prisoners) in an attempt to fit more bones in the relatively small space. I'm torn whether I recommend this or not, though I'm glad we took the tour.


I'd skip this one unless your heart's desire is to see Gustav Klimt's the Kiss, which is housed in the Oberes Belvedere. It costs €12,50 and I would have far rather put that toward the €14 admission to the Kunsthistorisches Museum. If you do walk here, definitely enter the gardens at the lower end to the left/west of Unteres Belvedere so at least you see a pretty view as you walk up the hill to other end.

There are many museums yet to see in Vienna! Which ones do you recommend?

Vienna 3: Sights, Monuments, and Free Stuff
Vienna 2: Hotels and Restaurants
Vienna 1

Friday, September 19, 2014

Driving in Germany 6: The Day I Almost Killed a Guy

My husband is going to love reading this when he gets home from work today, don't you think? Yes, the title is slightly exaggerated because I was only going 30 km/h, but my hands are still shaking as I type this.

All I did was drive to the grocery store and back. I do that three to four times a week. The 4-minute drive includes a highway (100 km/h), two city sections (50 km/h), our residential area (30 km/h), one roundabout, and a windy road with no shoulder but big trucks parked on at least one side obscuring our vision and narrowing the road further (50 km/h).

Today on the way home I was enjoying the smell of the fresh basil plant nestled on the back seat and the knowledge that I don't have to go to the store tomorrow because we're set for the weekend, and pondering on a blog post about how Germans frequently scold strangers for doing things they disapprove of - something I had just witnessed again while exiting the store.  On that aforementioned narrow windy road in front of me was a little helmeted man on a little moped driving snug against the right curb. He had to navigate around the semi truck parked on the right, and I drove patiently behind him. After the truck he swerved snug against the right side again almost onto the sidewalk, but then meandered out again and slowed down. I'm still behind him, grumbling by this time about his erratic driving, but not overly annoyed. He angled right again and slowed almost to a stop but not quite, and the road was clear of traffic coming toward us, so I merged into the opposite lane to get around him. I did not gun it, as I've seen many drivers do (to me, also) to show their annoyance.

Then Moped Man hit the gas, swerved sharply left - directly in front of me - as if he were crossing traffic to turn into a driveway (there was no driveway right there). I hit my beautiful brakes so hard that I felt the ABS kick in - that car can stop nearly on a dime - though I still have no idea how I did not hit him with my right bumper. I may or may not have yelled something that vaguely rhymed with "rolly duck" as the pot of basil threw itself to the floor of the back seat and the wine bottles bashed against each other in panic.

He just kept going, swerving now back around to the right to go into the Aldi parking lot. I hate this man.

He was being stupid on his stupid little moped, but still... I am not as familiar with driving laws over here as I should be, but I'm pretty sure that if a little old helmeted man is knocked off his stupid little moped by a woman in a big angry Audi, I'm pretty sure he would not be even partially at fault no matter how erratic his driving was. I would have been responsible for his bruises, cuts, soiled trousers, tears, and stupid broken moped.

However, when I drive slowly behind a bicycle, moped, three-wheeled scooter-car, tractor or whatever without passing it when the oncoming lane is clear, I then have fuming Germans behind me making gestures in my rear-view mirror looking like they are going to convulse and rupture making an awful mess if I don't somehow get out of the way.

I hate....HATE...driving over here. I suppose I wouldn't mind at all if there were no other drivers sharing the road with me, but that's unlikely.

Update: I did have to go to the store the next day because I forgot parmesan cheese. I walked.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Expativersary: Two years

Ich weiß, dass ich heute schon gepostet/geschrieben habe, aber ich wollte nur kurz sagen, dass ich heute vor zwei Jahren in Deutschland angekommen bin. Ich habe kein einziges Bedauern und ich bin jeden Tag froh, dass ich hier bin. Ich würde meine Familie vermissen, aber ich sehe sie fast so oft wie ich früher meinen Mann gesehen habe. Ich war sogar letztes Wochenende mit meinen Eltern in Wien!

Ich habe mich gut eingelebt, habe genug zu tun und Zeit zum Schreiben, Lesen, Lernen, und Reisen, und Martin und ich sind sehr glücklich zusammen. Ich hätte nie gedacht, dass das Leben so schön sein könnte...

Mein einziges Problem ist immer noch das mit dem Autofahren. Es ist nicht mehr lustig - es wäre sehr praktisch wenn ich diese schreckliche Angst besiegen könnte.

Mein Deutsch wird nie perfekt, aber ich komme zurecht. Gestern als ich mit der Lebenshilfegruppe war habe ich mit einem Kind auf einem Kletter-Ding auf einem Spielplatz geklettert. Ein Mann ist vorbeigelaufen und sagte etwas zu mir.
"Wie bitte?"
"Es tut mir leid, ich bin aus den USA und verstehe nicht so gut."
Plötzlich spricht er Deutsch (statt Schwäbisch)!
"Es ist schön da oben, gell?"
"Ja, sehr schön! Blaue Himmel, Frische Luft...Es ist wunderschön hier!"  :-)

Gestern Abend haben Martin und ich eine zweistündige Doku über Bauwerke im antiken Rom geschaut, und ich habe fast alles verstanden. Na ja, ich bin ein- oder zweimal eingenickt, aber was ich gesehen und gehört habe war sehr interessant, und ich bin froh, dass ich das Meiste verstehen konnte.

Heute Abend gehen wir zu unserem Lieblingsrestaurant um diese zwei Jahre zusammen zu feiern. Ich bin eine sehr glückliche Frau.

English short version:

I know I already posted today, but I just wanted to put it out there that I arrived in Germany two years ago today to start my life as an expat. Life is good!

Wien / Vienna 3: Sights, Monuments & Free Stuff

When you go to Vienna you should definitely visit the museums that appeal to you as well as attend a concert or performance. You're in VIENNA! Don't skip the music. But these sights and activities are not cheap. I'll write later about the things my MiL and I did that we had to pay for (and I'll include prices), but why not start with free stuff? Your pocketbook will suffer enough from entrance fees, ticket prices, and tours, so I'd recommend including also a self-guided walking tour where you can see some interesting and beautiful fountains, monuments and buildings that may challenge your physical fitness but won't burden your wallet.

I'll try to do this in a logical order starting at Stephansplatz, the square in front of the Stephansdom. Go all around the cathedral to get the full effect from the ground. You can also go inside and see some of the sanctuary, staying outside of the gated area. You can go around to the left and up close to the front of the side aisle. If you don't want to learn about the church, you can see this much of the inside for free.
I took this shot over the iron fence.
We went into the church on Thursday evening and saw it like this with no people. On Saturday late morning it was so packed with tourists that the photo above would not have been possible.

From there it's not far to the Pestsäule (Plague Column), one of the most well-known sculptures in Vienna. One of the last  big plague epidemics raged into Vienna in 1679 causing Emperor Leopold I to flee the city. Before leaving he vowed to raise a monument if the plague would end. This baroque column was finally finished and unveiled in 1693, and its message was and is that nothing other than the Catholic faith conquered the plague.

"Der Tod, der muss ein Wiener sein." ~Georg Kreisler
"Death must be Viennese."  (Cabaret star & composer)

The Pestsäule is not far from the Peterskirche, which is also beautiful inside and worth a stop. I will do a separate post about the TEN churches we visited, so I won't add a picture here. 

Ankeruhr / Anker Clock

Head to the Hoher Markt next, where you'll see the Ankeruhr. The Hoher Markt is the oldest market square of Vienna, and archeologists found Roman ruins underneath the pavement. A pillory was located here in the Middle Ages next to the courthouse as well as a nuthouse. This square also served as a fish market for ages and was the end of the first water conduit of Vienna. The fountain on the square is called the Vermählungsbrunnen, or Marriage Fountain. The Ankeruhr is an art nouveau decoration for the arch between the Anker Insurance building and the neighboring house. Every day at 12:00 noon the doors of the clock open and twelve important figures from Viennese history parade past, including Marcus Aurelius, Charlemagne, and Rudolf I.

Palais Collalto, where Mozart debuted at age 6.
Next is the Judenplatz. Sadly, we missed this though we were very close and only realized it later. There is a memorial called the Nameless Library for the 65,000 Austrian Jews that were murdered during the Holocaust. 

Then you'll come to a square called am Hof. Here you can see the Palais Collalto, where Mozart gave his concert debut at age six, as well as the Mariensäule, a column topped by the Virgin Mary erected in 1667 in thanks for Vienna being spared from an attack by the Swedish army during the Thirty Years' War.

Now you're close to the area called Freyung. Look for the Cafe Central, though chances are it will be too full for immediate seating. It was raining by this time and the line went out the door, so we chose a different cafe in the Ferstel Passage (left) where we also found the Donaunixenbrunnen, or Danube Mermaids Fountain (right).

Head down Herrengasse, take a right at Bankgasse, and you'll find the Volksgarten, or People's Park. Here you'll see a beautiful rose garden if the season is right, the Theseus Temple and a memorial to Sisi, or Kaiserin Elisabeth.
Sisi Memorial

Rathaus on left, Erzherzog Karl in the middle,
and the Parliament building on the left.
At the southern end of the Volksgarten you'll find yourself at Heldenplatz (Heroes' Square), one of the most stunning squares of the city. The statues of Erzherzog (archduke) Karl and Prinz Eugen von Savoyen face each other, and you can see the silhouettes of the Rathaus, the Burgtheater, and the Parliament building over the trees of the Volksgarten. The sun even peeked out just long enough for a "wow effect".

Prinz Eugen von Savoyen in front of the Nationalbibliothek

Nationalbibliothek / National Library

If you venture through the Burgtor you will come to the Naturhistorisches Museum and the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which face each other with the monument to Maria Theresia between them. I'll mention the two museums in a future post because, of course, there are entrance fees. But the buildings are also impressive to see from the outside!

Maria Theresia
Come back to the Burgring and head roughly east onto Opernring, and you'll see monuments to  Goethe, Schiller, Kaiser Franz Joseph and Mozart.
You'll also pass the Staatsoper, the opera house of Vienna.

Secessionsgebäude / Secession Building
If you're not exhausted yet, turn right onto Operngasse and find the Secessionsgebäude (Secession Building). Inside - for a fee - you can view various art nouveau pieces including the Beethoven Frieze by Gustav Klimt. We went into the gift shop and looked for a picture of it to see what we'd be viewing and decided to be satisfied with photos of the outside of the unique building.

Now you're not far from the Naschmarkt, the open-air Markthalle. You'll find little shops here and small restaurants, kiosks, and fruit and vegetable stands. It's a great place to take a break from all the walking you've done, but especially on Friday afternoons and Saturdays, be vigilant against pickpockets. We didn't have any trouble, but I was warned by a friend and also my tour book.

Go next to Karlsplatz and Karlskirche, which I'll write about in another post. It costs to go inside the baroque church, but it's quite stunning from the outside.
Karlskirche / St. Charles Church

Another building in this area that might interest you is the Musikverein with its pinkish facade, across the busy street from the Karlskirche. It's in this building that the well-known New Year's in Vienna concert is performed. [photo pending]

All of these buildings, squares, monuments and fountains are things you can see - at least from the outside - for free, and the list is by no means exhaustive. Most of the churches are open as well for tourists and prayer, and only the Karlskirche and Stephansdom charge a fee to fully enter and explore the church. I recommend planning a balance of costly activities and ones free of charge. There's no better way to explore die Innere Stadt (District 1) of Vienna than on foot. My MiL, who is in the second half of her 60s, and I did this walking tour in one day plus going inside churches, and ended the day at a concert. Another way to do it is of course to go to the museums and other attractions that interest you, and make a point to see some of these "free things" before and afterwards.

Writing about Vienna is making me yearn to return and explore more, seeing what we missed. Four days was surely not enough time!

Don't forget your umbrella.

Those of you who have been to Vienna - what did I miss that one can see, admire, and photograph 
without paying an entrance fee?

Hotel and restaurants
Museums and tombs

Disclaimer: I do not, after a short four-day stay in Vienna, claim to be an expert on the city! I am writing these posts mainly for myself and for anyone who might be helped by my descriptions of what I did there. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wien / Vienna 2: Hotel and Restaurants

My mother-in-law and I flew from Stuttgart to Wien on Thursday and arrived in the pouring rain. It continued to rain throughout the rest of the day and night. We were not surprised by this because the forecast actually said constant rain for the whole weekend, and we actually got lucky and had only occasional rain from Friday to Sunday.

Instead of writing a post for each day of our time in Vienna, I'm going to try writing posts by theme, starting with meals and accommodations. When I'm visiting a city or town for the first time (or for the first time in many years, as was the case for me with Vienna), I always appreciate personal recommendations for places to stay and eat. I read reviews on and so on, but I'm more interested in what friends of mine and other travel bloggers recommend.

We stayed at the Hotel Kaiserin Elisabeth on Weihburgstraße, and it was perfect for us. It was a 1-minute walk to the U-Bahn at Stephansplatz and a 2-minute walk to the Stephansdom. We walked all over the central part of town within the Ring, mainly, and only needed the U-Bahn to get to my parents' riverboat to meet them and to and from the airport. This is a great central location and we thought the price was reasonable (€147 / $190 per night for a single room).
Our rooms faced the inner courtyard and we couldn't believe how quiet it was in the middle of this big city. I didn't even hear other guests, though apparently the hotel was full all weekend. My room was perfectly fine, the bathroom updated, the bed comfortable and the Federbett (comforter) and pillows cuddly. There was a TV that I never turned on because I prefer reading, a minibar that I'm too frugal to even peek at, and a safe I didn't need because I don't travel with valuables that would need locking up. For those who need those kinds of things, though, they are available, as is a clock radio with alarm and a hair dryer.

The staff at the front desk provides maps of Vienna, brochures for various attractions, and information about concerts and performances, are ready to give advice about what to see and do, and will arrange for tickets, transportation, and reservations if you need them. There is a computer in the lobby for guests to use and a printer which is convenient for printing boarding passes when it's time to leave again.

Not shown: a wardrobe with hangers and shelves

The staff still needed time to finish preparing our rooms, so we had a cappuccino in the lounge shown below. That's a portrait of the famous and much-loved Sisi (Empress Elisabeth of Austria) above the mantle, and the larger one is of her husband Kaiser Franz Josef.

Unfortunately I can never make proper use of the breakfast buffet, but I thought it was more than sufficient. If I were able to eat a decent breakfast in the morning, I would not have lacked options: rolls and bread with jam or honey, a wide variety of cheeses and meats, yogurt and fresh fruit, cereal, soft-boiled eggs, and hot food - Kaiserschmarrn (like a sweet chopped up pancake), cooked vegetables with a sauce or cheese, and sausage or bacon. Coffee, tea, water, milk, and freshly squeezed orange and grapefruit juice are also available, of course, and by the third morning we didn't even have to ask for coffee because our server knew what we wanted.

For dinner on Thursday night I had made a reservation at the well-known restaurant Figlmüller, which is famous for its Schnitzel. It was a fun place to eat - quite crowded, so it was good we reserved a table, and a friendly waiter. To be honest, though, I was not impressed with the Schnitzel. It is huge and doesn't fit on the plate, which is their trademark. It was made from pork instead of veal (that's not a complaint), and very thin (as it should be). My husband, though, has taught me what the breading of a real Schnitzel is supposed to look like: unevenly browned and puckered or "bubbly." The breading on this Schnitzel looked pressed and was evenly colored - like the breading on a chicken sandwich at McDonald's (ok, definitely better than that, just a similar color).

According to the Figlmüller website, their Schnitzel is cooked in pans rather than a deep-fryer - three different pans are used for each Schnitzel, in fact. And they use the best cut of the pork - the tenderloin - and fresh oil. Martin just told me that if the oil is deep enough so the Schnitzel basically swims in it, the breading will be more evenly colored like it is here, and this is not uncommon. One feeds two people, so don't be silly and order a whole one for yourself like we did. I couldn't even finish half, though I got close. They'll happily provide a Sackerl (doggie bag), so we put the leftovers into the mini fridge and brought them with us on our walking tour the next day - saving the cost of another meal. No need to reheat it - it's good cold, too!

It was definitely good, and if you aren't the Schnitzel Snob that I've become, it's fine. Stay tuned, though, because if you are interested in a real Wiener Schnitzel, I've got a recommendation coming up later in this post.

On Friday our self-guided walking tour brought us to the Naschmarkt around lunch time. The Naschmarkt is like an open-air Markthalle with little shops, venders selling food - fruits and vegetables, cheese, herbs, meats - and small restaurants. We walked the aisles to check things out and then just picked a restaurant and sat down at an outside table. We only had a light snack and glass of wine (for me) and cappuccino (for my MiL) because we had our Schnitzel leftovers.. It was more important for us to just sit for a bit, since we'd walked all morning and were going to keep going all afternoon!

I didn't write down the name of the place, but that doesn't matter. Whatever cuisine you're hungry for, you should be able to find it at the Naschmarkt - Chinese, Turkish, Austrian/German, Arabic, Italian, and even fish and chips! I guess you won't find a Mexican or American (i.e. burger or steak) place, but there is a wide variety from which to choose. If you don't need a break to sit down, choose some fresh fruit and be on your way again.

Dinner on Friday was a real treat! My MiL had found the Viereck online because it was close to the Kursalon where we were meeting my parents for a concert later on. I only have a picture of the outside from earlier in the day because I didn't bring my camera in the evening (for which I have kicked myself repeatedly).

Again we made our reservation online the week before our trip - I'm loving this concept of reserving without having to make a phone call! At the Viereck you are given a tablet (of the Samsung Galaxy variety, German readers, NOT a Tablett, or tray!) as you are seated, and the Kellner explains how to use it if this is your first time at the restaurant. The menu is on the tablet with pictures, and you just click on what you'd like to order. The pictures are accurate - what you see is what you get! Elegant presentation, perfectly seasoned, fancy touches. Our Kellner told us to order our drinks and starters first and then later our main course, otherwise everything will come at once.

We selected our drinks and touched "bestellen" (order), and while we were looking at the starters, our drinks appeared. We both selected Schafskäse im Speckmantel auf frischem Rucolasalat und Balsamicoglace and touched "bestellen" again, and a very short time later our starters were brought to our table. It was insanely delicious and I was tempted to order it again for my main course!

Service was so fast (we were dining early and the restaurant wasn't busy yet) that we had to slow things down or we'd still have an hour to kill before the concert. I ordered another glass of Grüner Veltliner - a dry white wine - and we chatted about the next day's plan. Here's the most brilliant thing about this tablet-ordering business (called Smartmenu): although our Kellner was very friendly, attentive, and willing to chat when we had questions or comments, he never had to come to our table to ask if we wanted anything, how things tasted, if we needed another drink, if we were ready to order... It drives me absolutely NUTS in the U.S. when I am constantly interrupted by the waiter/waitress. Stop asking me questions! I will politely get your attention and tell you if I need anything. On the Smartmenu tablet there is a button that says "Kellner rufen" (call waiter). I pressed that, and he showed up almost immediately. There's another button for you to check out your total bill at any point, so you can actually figure out what you'll pay including tip even before touching "bezahlen" (pay). We each had our own bill on our tablet, but I was also able to touch "Rechnung abrufen" (fetch bill) to pull my MiL's bill onto mine so we could pay together. When you touch "bezahlen," the Kellner pops over and knows exactly why, and you pay him.

Granted, if you like the American-style interruptions and frequent personal contact with your Kellner, maybe this isn't for you. But you don't get that constant attention in Germany or Austria anyway. You have to try to catch eye contact with him, possibly wave subtly to get his attention, etc. when you need something. That's fine with me, too, but I found this Smartmenu thing just brilliant.

Oh, we both had Scampi e Spinaci (jumbo shrimp on noodles with baby spinach) which was again delicious. Choosing something without garlic might have been smarter as we were headed next to a concert, but oh well. I'd happily order it again. The Viereck is very close to the Stadtpark, and I absolutely and enthusiastically recommend it! It might be a 10-minute walk from the Stephansdom, and it's worth every step.

On Saturday for lunch we ate at Cafe Landtmann near the Burgtheater and Rathaus with my parents and my aunt who was also on the European river cruise. They were told by their cruise director - who lives in Vienna - that the most expensive coffee in Vienna is at this restaurant. We didn't have any because we couldn't get our waiter's attention when some of us wanted coffee (the Smartmenu would have been good here!) so I can't speak about the quality, but one cappuccino costs €5,50 ($7.12). A normal coffee is €3,50 ($4.53), and there are no free refills. I'll agree that's pretty expensive, but I found the menu prices for the food reasonable. There is outdoor seating, but the weather was sketchy, so we ate inside (online reservation, of course). The restaurant has a very classy atmosphere.
Photo credit: J. Keckonen
This room was set for dinner. The main room where we ate was quite full.
Photo credit: J. Keckonen

This is where I tasted what might have been the best Schnitzel I have ever had. My dad ordered it, but I tried a bite. First of all it was real Wiener Schnitzel, made with veal. The breading look exactly like what my husband has described (and like the Schnitzel he makes at home!) - unevenly browned (which, among other things shows that it was prepared in a pan rather than in a deep-fryer) and puckered and "bubbly". The meat was so tender that you wouldn't even need teeth to chew it, and so delicious it almost brought tears to my eyes.

This is what I mean by "puckered" breading and uneven coloring.
Photo credit: J. Keckonen

I am sure many restaurants in Vienna do an amazing Schnitzel - it's a specialty of Vienna, after all! But based on my brief experience, if you want to be sure to have a Schnitzel to remember, order it at Cafe Landtmann. It's not cheap because it's made with veal (€23,00 / $29.75), but it's large enough, filling, and comes with parsley potatoes and a salad.

Here's a Schnitzel tip: If it's called Wiener Schnitzel on the menu, it's made with veal. If it's just called "Schnitzel" or "Schnitzel Wiener Art" (Vienna-style Schnitzel) then it's made with pork. The pork version is very good also and cheaper, but it's not the real thing. This is the case no matter where (in Germany or Austria) you are eating because there are strict rules here about naming dishes and foods. The Schnitzel I mentioned earlier is called "Figlmüller Schnitzel" because it is not Wiener Schnitzel. Schnitzel simply means "cutlet," and there are many other kinds. Putenschnitzel is a turkey cutlet, for example, and Jägerschnitzel is a pork cutlet without breading served with a dark mushroom sauce.

The last restaurant I'll write about was right near our hotel and on Kärntnerstraße, one of the main Fußgängerzonen (pedestrian zones) in Vienna. It is the Restaurant Venezia, which is clearly Italian. We sat outside, which we both prefer when the weather is ok. My MiL had lasagna and I had spaghetti pomodori:

Basically it was spaghetti with tomato and basil sauce, and once again delicious. I had a glass of the Grüner Veltliner again, and sparkling water, of course. I swear, I do not describe everything I eat as "delicious." It just happened that there was nothing I ate in Vienna that I didn't like!

We had quite a variety of dining experiences for such a short time in Vienna. Each place was very unique, and everything I ate was something I would order again. My favorite restaurant was the Viereck with the Smartmenu, the better (but more expensive) Schnitzel was at the Landtmann, and the most conveniently located place from our hotel was the Venezia.

My next posts will be more about sight-seeing.
 Things to see for free
 Museums and Tombs

Monday, September 15, 2014

Wien / Vienna I

Yesterday I returned from four days in Vienna with my mother-in-law. The reason for our trip was that my parents, who live in Wisconsin, were on a "Great Rivers of Europe" cruise from Amsterdam to Vienna, and their 50th wedding anniversary was on the day they arrived in Vienna. MiL and I decided to fly there for a long weekend, do some sight-seeing together first, and then meet my parents for some of their activities, to which they treated us.

It was an amazing weekend, and we could not have seen or done more than we did in those four days (really two full days and half of two others). In case you're looking for travel notes on any of the following, let me tell you four major things we did not do: Schloß Schönbrunn, Spanische Hofreitschule, shopping, and nightlife. The two of us are very well matched regarding things we like to see and do. We went into almost every church within walking distance of the city center, looked down all side streets and when either of us saw something interesting said, "Oh, look! What's that?" and walked down to check it out. We had made some reservations for meals and museums online before our trip, and we don't have one single regret about the weekend. There are some things we wouldn't do twice, but we're glad we did and saw what we did.

Looks like a church or a palace, doesn't it?
But no, it's the Prunksaal of the Nationalbibliothek.
I will write more when I come down off my high from the weekend, but let me say now that I completely forgot how fabulous it can be to travel by air when the Land of the Free is not in any way part of my journey. No stupid questions when dropping my baggage ("Who packed your suitcase?"  "I'm 45 f-ing years old. Who the hell do you think packed my suitcase?!"  "Did you accept anything from a stranger since arriving at the airport?"  "Yes, but he looked really trustworthy and swore to me that it was only a box of chocolates."), no removal of the shoes, no freedom bag (the transparent plastic bag with my dangerous hand lotion tucked snuggly inside) needed... The guy at security even stopped me as I started to unbuckle my belt. "No, don't worry about that." I was once sent back in Atlanta because I'd forgotten to remove an unopened wet nap from my pocket. Yesterday I didn't even take the coins out of my pocket or remove my watch. No nudie scanner. Really, truly nice.

Stay tuned for more about beautiful Vienna...

inside Stephansdom (St. Stephen's Cathedral)