Year One: Hub’s Point of View

Like the six month posts, Hubs wanted to provide his views of our first year here in Vienna:

A year has gone by, and like everyone seems to be saying about their own lives, “Where has the time gone?!”.  A year ago, we arrived jetlagged like hell.  I remember about 10 minutes out from the airport looking down to a snow covered country and not recognizing anything.   All the times we had flown into BWI I could make out certain routes, bridges, buildings, rivers, terrains, etc…However, seeing new terrains, buildings, roads…was downright frightening.  That is my first memory of Austria.


New places always seem big
If I go anywhere new, I think my main goal is not to get lost.  I always try to get a frame of reference based on the one or two landmarks I know.  NYC, for instance, seemed HUGE the first time I went…well…because it is, but, each time I visited NYC, subsequently, it seemed a little smaller.  I eventually knew how to get around fairly easy.  The same applied to Vienna.  I remember we were lost a few times looking for a particular shop, or went on public transit the wrong direction.  The city seemed HUGE, and confusing.  During the first week, we set out to find a place called “The Juice Factory”.  Elaine had researched it before we came and really wanted to try it.  We took the public transit where we were supposed to, but didn’t know which direction to walk when we came up from underground.  We wandered the snowy streets and alleyways for about 20 minutes on 25 degree weather before we gave up (no smartphones yet).  I remember thinking that we were never going to figure out how to navigate around the giant buildings and the giant city.  Now, everything seems smaller.  I’ve come to realize that Vienna is not a big city, it’s very compact.  We still haven’t been to the “Juice Factory”, but ironically, our neighbors (as in the apartment adjacent to us) are the owners of it.  Small world, smaller city.


Street food smells
This is something I meant to include in my 6-month post, but ran out of time.  Viennese eating habits are perplexing, to say the least.  In the morning, there are tons of bakeries around town serving croissants, breads, donuts, buns, etc…Bakeries, I would say, have a comforting aroma.  There’s one bakery at the start of my commute.  At the end of my commute (7:45AM), the smell, in a word, is, “terrifying”.  I wish I were exaggerating.  At just about every subway stop you will find many stands peddling “Doner Kebap”.  It is, without a doubt, the most disgusting food/smell I have ever had the opportunity to be around.  If you don’t know what the “meat” in a “Doner Kebap” looks like, see below. A mish-mash of mystery meat & fat disgustingness on a spinning spike as it’s warmed by the toaster behind it.  It gets worse, though.  You can’t have a real Doner Kebap without a helping of onions. These are the closest pictures I could find that resembles what I’m talking about:
I literally start gagging when I see or smell the rotating, steamy, sweaty meat and onions – especially in the mornings.  Unfortunately for me, this food item is incredibly common for Viennese to eat – especially in closed spaces, such as: all forms of public transportation.
Next up, Pizza.  I know what you’re thinking, how can anyone mess up Pizza, Phil?!  Leave it to the Viennese to give it their best shot.  When you think about your favorite pizza, what’s on it?  For me, it’s either pepperoni or a plain regular cheese (margherita) pizza.  Pretty simple.  There are two toppings in Vienna which are incredibly popular, but also really really confusing to me.  The first is corn…CORN!?  Who in their right mind puts corn on their pizza?  Typically, the combination you’ll find is ham, onion, and corn pizza.  I wish I were making this up.  The second topping makes the first one seem normal: canned (dark) tuna fish.  After watching what Viennese people eat this year, I’ve come to the conclusion that they have no taste buds or sense of smell.  Canned tuna fish, in my opinion, has a horrible smell.  I know a lot of people like it on sandwiches and can eat it cold.  That I can accept, but on pizza?  I’m not so sure.  That’s bad smell x10 after cooking.  Tuna pizza is so popular here, you can find it in the frozen pizza section at the grocery store.  The pizza stands at subway stops make pizza on-site, but the catch is, it sits there for hours getting cold, and congealing back to solid form.  The other common street foods are different types of sausages (no big surprise) and asian-ish stir-fry noodles.  
There are typically two types of people in this world when it comes to eating, there’s people who “eat to live” and those who “live to eat”.  Given America’s burgeoning weight problem, I’d say we definitely live to eat.  Viennese, in my opinion, eat to live.  They. do. not. care. what it looks or tastes like.  If it’s food, they eat it.  Take the pizza slices for instance; sitting there for hours getting cold and solid…no problem…they’ll take two slices, please.  I think I’ve gone on about this enough, but in closing…Elaine and I (and other expat couples we know) do not like Austrian food at all.  Heavy, fatty, meat intense, bland, salty, and void of any spices besides salt & pepper is how to describe Austrian food.  The people here swear by it, but I ask you this…when was the last time you saw an Austrian restaurant open in your town?
Banking and various accounts

Banking here is advanced and trapped in the past at the same time.  It was a complete shock to be charged here, quarterly, for using our money.  It’s about 20 euro ($28) each quarter for us to use the bank, online payments, atms, and our bank cards.  I was angry about being charged when we signed up at first, but, when in Rome.  Europe exclusively uses cards with smart chip technology.  Recently, Target experienced a security breach and one of the topics that was brought up was their initial shot at credit cards with smart chips.  Years ago they were on the leading edge of the technology with their credit card in the US.  In order to use it, you had to have a smart chip credit card reader to use the credit card at home.  They even provided the technology to do so.  But, it was wholly rejected by the industry.  Some of the headache of stolen CC information could have been prevented.  In any case, Europe has a safer system of bank and credit cards.  Additionally, you can use any ATM in the city, from any bank, surcharge free.  It’s quite easy to get money almost anywhere, you can even specify the bill denominations it dispenses.  It’s quite convenient.  The service at the banks is also quite good, I have to say.  I’ve been happy with those aspects…thus far.  The banking system in Europe has really been pushing for the ease of online payments to businesses and people.  Anyone here can receive money as a payment, directly, even in between banks.

Now, here’s the not so convenient, stone age-ish part of banking.  To open an account anywhere is a painful process.  The standard process is fill out a rock slab with a chisel, have it stamped, and signed dually by the you (the customer) and the bank.  Only then can you have to right to open an account.  Seriously.  Opening a credit card in the US is quite easy, fill in a form online, click submit, BOOM, credit account in under 30 seconds.  Here, it’s: download a PDF form, print it, fill it in, reprint it because you messed up, fill it in again, take it to your bank, have them verify you indeed have an account, they stamp and sign it, then I sign it, scan it back into PDF form, email it to a blackhole customer service email address, and a few weeks later you might get a credit card.  Additionally, all credit cards carry an annual fee for their “service”.  
Austrians need everything signed here in order to make things happen.  You want electricity and gas?  We’ll help you after we mail you forms, fill it in, sign, and return.  You want cell phone service?  Here’s a paper, sign it.  Everything important you want to do involves signing your name on a physical sheet of paper.  In an American world of instantness, the Austrian way can seem painful.
Getting around and everyday life
The last time I drove a car was January 21st, 2013.  Do I miss driving?  Not. at. all.  We’re so happy not having cars.  We save money on parking, gas, repairs, insurance, and payments.  The extensive network of subways, street cars, buses, and bike lanes make it impossible to justify buying a car.  I’ve heard people complain about public transportation being dirty, slow/inconvenient, or there’s only crazy homeless people on it.  In fairness, it can be dirty, sometimes slow, and occasionally there are people asking for money.  However, it’s still the best way to get around.  At 365 euro/year, that’s 1 euro/day (for those of you who say “I’m bad at math”) for an unlimited ticket.  It’s unbeatable.
Outside of the things that are different, my days are mostly the same as in the US.  Get up, go to work, come home, and walk the dog.  We rarely do any touristy things during the week and eat in almost all the time.  We prefer eating at home.  We don’t have Austrian TV, only an Apple TV.  We keep up with a few American shows, but otherwise the TV is off.  I also have an online subscription to watch Capitals hockey games.  For the first year, I made excuses about not working out and getting in shape.  A Crossfit gym opened across the street and now I’m a member.  Elaine may join when they offer Yoga and/or Pilates.  

I’ve definitely warmed to Vienna more in the last 6 months, than the first six months.  I feel more comfortable here.  I’ve been learning German, little by little, and I’m starting to get a grasp of what’s going on around us.  On one of our recent trips I started referring to Vienna as “home”.  I don’t know whether to accept it, or be alarmed.  We have a year of memories, and I think once this whole thing is over, it will seem like it went by in the blink of an eye.


4 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Phil's comments about food made me sad. 😦 I consider it good diplomacy to experience Vienna's food offerings. Austrian food can be quite delicious; it just takes time to figure it out; I'm still working my way through the goulashes of the different Austrian states. Corn on pizza is big in Korea and Japan; we had it in for the first time in Japan and love it. And say what you might about the Doner (which are mostly chicken and turkey on the street carts), but finding the right street vendor makes all the difference. If you want real lamb Doner, try Türkis on Mariahilfestraße. Happy Dining!

  2. I guess I am a little bias against Austrian food, because it's meat heavy. I'm not particularly fond of fatty meats, and I have never liked hunks of meat in a meal, including things like steak or chops. At one point, I even tried talking Elaine into cutting out meat to only once a week! I suppose if I did like meat more, I would like the food here. During our travels, Elaine and I do try to eat the things the locals do, and always avoid things like McDs 🙂 Austria seems to be the only place where we've had this issue. Funny things is, we liked Czech food!

  3. Ah. Well then, a few caveats would have made a difference in your comments. Still, Austrian cuisine has regional character and while, yes, there's no shortage of yummy yummy meat, I find that the Austrians do a bang-up job with Zander and Kabeljus (and I grew up in Michigan, surrounded by fish, so I speak from experience), and we've found ragu of wild game to be neither fatty nor meat-intensive, and more like Czech and Hungarian cuisine. And let's hear it for Kürbis and Spargel!

    Too bad you don't do the Golden Arches; the “Gitter Pommes” (waffle fries) are very tasty; and, really, the Erdbeer Buttermilchsnitte from the McCafe beats the dried out slice of Sacher Torte any day. 🙂

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