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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I want a bike

I want a bike.
Bike by BMW - a bit out of my price range

Although this sounds impractical considering winter is right around the corner (and it could begin to snow any day now in Amstetten), having a bike would improve my mobility.

I would not have to walk everywhere. I could take the bike trails instead of the same old ski/hiking trail next to St. Stephen's in Amstetten which is not actually a continuous trail, and thus annoys the hell out of me.

I could take the bike trail along the Danube that goes to Hungary! It takes four days to make one leg of the trip, and as I've mentioned, it could snow any day now. But if I had a bike, I could do it. If I get a bike in spring, I can do it!

bike trail in Hungary
If I had a bike, I would not have to take the train to the little towns around Amstetten, like Waidhofen, or Wels, or Krems a.d. Donau, or Melk, or wherever else I might find myself - those itty bitty places that aren't more than a bakery and a row of houses. Wouldn't that be fun??

Anyway, I need a bike. I don't even have a bike at home. Well, I do, but it's my sister's (sorry, Sam. you knew I used it when you weren't home anyway, right?) and I want my own bike when I leave home for real (not for nine months on a scholarship...somehow thinking about what I'm going to do when I get back takes the magic out of being here...trying really hard not to do that, but a gal's gotta be realistic, right?) and I really want a bike, but I don't want to buy an outrageously expensive one here and then have to pay some exorbitant shipping fee when I want to bring it home. But I also don't want to buy a cheapo bike that will break down on me in the middle of Hungary (if I do decide to take the trail...which, considering, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, right?) because my Hungarian is really not that that, I mean nonexistent (well, I can do the important things like introduce myself and order a glass of wine, which counts for something, right?) and, well, life is an adventure and needs to be executed as such.


I want a bike.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


In keeping with my new theme, I must, of course, show you what I made for dinner.

Although typically Hungarian, goulasch is still considered a staple meal in certain circles here in Austria. There are some "leftovers" (tee hee) from the Austro-Hungarian Empire that are just harder than others to...throw away. Such as:
                         1) Austrians are very proud of their distinct historical and cultural heritage
                         2) Austrians can sometimes be assholes about other people's cultures because they are so   
                         3) Austrians still eat a lot of goulasch.

OK, so here I am, little miss vegetarian sitting in the land of Wiener Schnitzel and goulasch. I can't go out and try the "authentic" versions in a restaurant because they will all be chock full of meat...I want to experience real Austrian culture, but I have my principles! And plus, I find meat disgusting, if you want the honest truth. After 15+ years of being vegetarian (thanks, Mom!) I have no desire to eat *actual* beef stew or deep-fried pork.

Yet, I am feeling a bit left out. So I decided to make my own. Substituting potatoes (and more vegetables) for the meat.  From a recipe I found in Woman. See, the magazine was totally worth it!

I ended up serving it over rice, because, although you can serve it as a soup, I am getting sick of soup (first I made a garlic-cream soup - also an idea originating in Hungary - and then all I ate was broth when I had my cold...)

My other option would have been spaghetti. So, I think I made the right choice. I do not know how to make the noodley dumpling things they serve all over the place here: Spätzle, or Knödel or whatever else there is - like twelve varieties of potato- or egg-dumplings... Plus, you can buy premade ones at the grocery store, but they are way too salty (high blood pressure, anyone?) and I don't like them. Mom's are the best anyway :)

To serve with, because I am totally nuts about wine...and getting the best bang for your buck (or Euro, as the case may be...) I got this white Hungarian wine at the the grocery store - €1.99, dude! From the Lake Balaton region, which sounds nice.

Unfortuantely, once I tasted it, I discovered that "lieblich" means sweet. Like a dessert wine. Which does not go very well with goulasch. Did that stop me from enjoying it? Hell no. I just had to have a dessert then. Manner wafers do very nicely as a follow-up to goulasch...or just about anything.


I noticed in the paper the other day that a movie is coming out about the life of the young Goethe...

Of course, I have to go see it, right? I mean, a) it's about Goethe's life and any self-respecting German major would go see for that alone; b) though the reviews were not great, it has eye candy (Alexander Fehling, anyone?) and it's a costume drama. What more could I ask for? As far as I'm concerned, it's already tied with Young Victoria...and c) whoever titled it put an exclamation mark at the end. Genius.

So, I'm looking up showtimes online...and guess what? It is playing in Vienna, or Linz. Not Amstetten. And, yes, Amstetten does have a cinema. This means that I have to make an "excursion" to see this movie!!! WHY?? Well, my options are limited, and must wait until the weekend. This weekend, perhaps! Because Tuesday is Austria's national celebration, (26 October - which is incidentally, my parents' 25th wedding anniversary this year) I get a four-day weekend! Which will most certainly find me in Vienna. Because, well, Amstetten isn't big enough for a four-day weekend. Plus, isn't it always exciting being in a capital city on the day of national celebration?

I was in Berlin on 3 October three years ago (Tag der deutschen Einheit) and I was in Paris on 14 July two years ago (Bastille Day) but I was never in Washington, D.C. on July 4.

 Sad sad sad, because when I was 12, we took a road trip to see certain Civil War battlefields, and catch up on some American history. It was really one of the best family vacations we ever had. We went to Vicksburg, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg; took a tour of Monticello and Madison's house, Mount Vernon, and Colonial Williamsburg. We got into Washington D.C. on  July 6. Two whole days late! And we didn't even stay there. We took a bathroom break near Capitol Hill and moved on to Gettysburg.

Parade at Colonial Williamsburg

Well, I would consider these things important! National pride and's always great to get an insider's view of such things - if you can objectify your own nation's world P.O.V. Which I think I can do (and do do) pretty regularly.

You may have picked up I have a thing for the Enlightenment...or the 18th century on the whole...

I think it's the hairstyles. This picture is of men, and, thus, cannot count. If you're in doubt, look up Marie Antoinette. Oh. That and the whole Enlightenment attitude of "pure faith is not good enough! We must find truth in analysis!" I analyze things to death.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Long and Short of It

It is apparently a fashion no-no to wear shorts in October in Austria.

Despite what your fashionista or women's magazine (Woman included) might say, the average Austrian prefers to both wear pants and see them exceptions! Especially in October. When your are more than likely considered crazy if you drift from the "norm." 

not my legs
I'll put it this way - I ran out of long pants (need to do laundry) and decided, what the hell? Though shorts with leggings and/or tights are not normally my thing, I might as well wear the shorts I packed, and instead of wait until summer (which is a long way off at this point...) I could wear them before it snows.  

So, I leave the house this morning, thinking...well, OK, I am a little chilly...but I will be inside teaching most of the day. Or walking around or something. Plus, they totally overheat the school for this time of year...guess I'm used to freezing in the Green Bay Public Schools...and I'm wearing knee-high boots and a turtleneck sweater. The only "exposed" parts of my body are my thighs.

But, as soon as I get into the buliding, what does my supervising teacher say to me? "Frierst du dich - oder?" No, I am fine. Thank you.

After class, I went to the grocery store, and while I was packing my things into my purse (forgot my bag at home - and, by the way, you have to pay for your grocery bags in Austria. Best to bring them with), the guy in line behind me asks, in German:
 "Aren't you cold?" 
"I'm fine," I say.
From which he persists, "Do you go around all winter in shorts?"
What would give him that idea? "No, it just takes me time to get used to long pants," I return. Just kidding.
He then gets the idea that we are having a conversation. "Where are you from?"
"United States."
"California?!" he says hopefully. "Arnold Schwarzenegger?"
Uh, no. I turn around to leave, and almost forget my beer...
Mr. Helpful comes up behind me and says, "So you like Austrian beer?"
"Yes," I say. Then I add a danke, taking it from him. 
"What are you doing in Amstetten?" 
"I'm the foreign language assistant at the HLW."
He bursts out laughing.
"I went there!" he says. "Ten years ago. We had a British assistant named Tracy."
He switches to English. "Everything I know, I learned from her!"
He beams proudly.
"Very good. Well, nice to meet you..." 

And I duck down a side street toward my apartment.

Not what I expected from wearing shorts. I was actually hoping to run into that little twit in the 4th form who said Americans had no fashion sense last week. So she would see how fashionable I am and shut her trap...but I didn't even see her today! Maybe that is for the best, though...she could very well also think I'm nuts.

Voralberg is not Wisconsin!
Another crazy story: when the guy asked me where I was from, I couldn't help but think of the girl I was talking to yesterday (in German - after class, of course) who said I speak German like her cousin from Voralberg. Not exactly a compliment, considering the Voralberg dialect is basically incomprehensible...but at least I don't sound American, right??

My life's work is complete when, while in a foreign country, I either a) blend in well enough to trick people into thinking I'm a native or b) confuse locals by being ambiguously foreign (i.e. not obviously American) because it's always fun to mess with people's perceptions...isn't it?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


I picked up an Austrian fashion magazine yesterday - Woman.

Now Woman might be little know outside of Austria, but it is full of advice for the German-speaking Frau.

I now have the vocabulary necessary to discuss yeast infections, adding volume to my hair, what's up with Vanessa Paradis' new Glam Rock look, and I know the general Austrian reaction to women wearing burkas - as expressed by this chick living in Vienna who decided to try one on for a day (sort of like the women's magazine version of Black Like Me).

Plus, I got a free sample of hand lotion, a tear-out home makeover guide by Diane von Furstenburg and department store coupons for 20% off...exciting, no? All for €2.50

It's always really great to experience the less-obvious parts of cultural immersion. Like, obviously, people all over the world read magazines. I read magazines. And rarely does it occur to me that magazines will be different in other parts of the world, because (although that's an obvious DUH) I don't ever really think about. And such a thing would not be available to me if I were not in Austria because, well, I can't imagine Woman has a very high circulation rate. I mean, if you're not Austrian, why would you read it?

I'm going to compare Woman to Glamour or Redbook - for the average woman. Not as high-fashion as Vogue or Elle, but not as housewife-friendly as Ladies' Home Journal or as progressive as Ms. Just in the middle. Fluffy with important stuff, too.

I am looking forward to other exciting finds...Austrian soap operas, anyone?


Monday, October 18, 2010

Die Wachau - more fun sightseeing in Niederösterreich

There are lots of really great places to go explore in Niederösterreich. Even though tourist season is winding down for the year (and most tourists have packed up and gone home), it's the perfect time of year to check out the traditional tourist traps. The days are shorter and crisper, but the little cobblestone streets are less crowded - thus, normally impassibly narrow gangways are (gasp!) usable - and the wine shops, chocolate shops, and so forth want to get rid of their stock before they close for the winter, so you can get certain things at a reduced rate. Much like an end-of-season sale! Which, as anyone who really knows me can tell you, I absolutely adore. I think 90% of my shopping is done at end-of-season sales. 

These photos were taken in Aggstein, an AWESOME medieval castle next to the Danube. My Betreuungslehrer for the HAK, Elfriede, took me :) 

The castle is in ruins, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but in its heyday, back in the 12th century, it was a hideout for pirates and thieves. 

The castle is built right into the stone cliffs next to the Danube, and the pirates used to sit in the castle and wait for ships to come by carrying freight...and then they'd pounce! And bring all their booty back to the castle! 

me in front of castle

view from back of castle

actual sandstone cliff face in coutyard

Today, they still have falconers come and practice on the grounds, as well as knighting/jousting tournaments (don't know if the SCA has any affiliation...) and a tavern, where you can have parties. There is also a chapel, and a fair number of people hold their wedding at Aggstein! Sort of cool. As long as you don't go overboard on the theme wedding idea...


view from window
window in "kitchen"

 In the lower left-hand corner, you can see the Danube. Pretty easy to imagine ship-watching from the top of the tower, eh?

Again, the Danube -->

....and then from the other side :)
beautiful fall foliage
OK, this is probably more pictures of Aggstein than you ever wanted to see in your life, are more! 

I have NO idea why, but I am totally obsessed with ruins. I think it has something to do with the idea of civilizations that have come and gone. And the idea of comparing them to our own (which, if you want my opinion, could use a little hint or two...) It's all sort of mystical, isn't it?

Another look at the Danube -->

view from top

After Aggstein, we went to Dürnstein, which, among other things, is noted for being the stage for the story of Sänger Blondel. I shall relate....

The story of Sänger Blondel is a legend from the middle ages. In 1192, Richard the Lionheart was making his way back from the Crusades and decided to meet up with King Leopold near Vienna (i.e. Dürnstein) for a beer...or whatever. Well, no one told Blondel, his trusty minstrel and loyal servant a) that the war was over, or b) that Richard was still alive. So, poor Blondel went from castle to castle looking for insensitive Richard, running to the top of each tower and singing, "O Richard! O, mien König!" at the top of his lungs. They finally met up in Dürnstein.

There is also a new musical by Tim Rice called Blondel about the saga...which may or may not be the next Jesus Christ: Superstar.

very Baroque...don't fix it,though

There is also a church/monastery in Dürnstein. Here is the courtyard  -->

It was closed for the evening when we tried to get in :(
courtyard of Stift

And last but not least, a final look at the Danube!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Week 2: Und so weiter...

Well, around Wednesday this week, I was hit by a particularly yucky head cold, and have thus been MIA on the WWW...three whole days, I know! It's almost unthinkable, isn't it?

However, until my BVA card (Austrian insurance card that gives me access to the fabulous Socialist health care system) comes in, I can't go to the doctor. I mean, I can, but then I would have to pay a premium. Which, sorry, I don't want to. At least not unless one of my limbs is endangered or something. So, with two weeks left to wait until it comes in the mail, I have been downing vitamin C tablets and green tea and blowing my nose at 5 minute intervals. In between English instruction. Because, according to the Fulbright handbook, I need a doctor's excuse to skip school.

No biggie, actually, since this week was my easy week. But I am reminded of the last time I was in Europe for more than two weeks (well, that would have been the last time I was in Europe) and I got sick in Bratislava in September. Which was actually worse, because I was on vacation, and supposed to be enjoying myself. And I didn't speak the language, so I was extra petrified of going into an Apotheke and asking for what could be aspirin...or could be some hallucinogenic drug, for all I know of Slovakian. And you know what I blame? The disgusting Soviet-era hotel we stayed at because it was super cheap, but also super groaty. Like, they hadn't cleaned the rooms since 1979...well, the bell boy said the place would probably be demolished by that time next year...don't know if it was.

He also said something like, "American girls? Very nice. You like disco?" every time we left or entered the hotel. Maybe he thought that was welcoming...

So...yes. Am recouping nicely. In my own bed. Miles away from any Slovakian hotel or bell boy. Thank God.

At school, the kids have been...your average teenagers. I introduced myself to a new group almost every day. But by Friday, they had all heard about me, so I didn't even need to introduce myself. It was actually very creepy to know that they had been talking about me. Must get used small-town mentality. Everyone likes to gossip, right? And when you get fresh fodder...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Canterbury Tales -- Here's a Whopper

One of my first teaching assignments - aside from introducing myself - has been (as the house native speaker, of course) to listen to the 4th Form's presentations on Canterbury this week.  They went for a Sprachwoche two weeks ago and stayed with English families from Sunday to Sunday to improve their English (of course) but also to do these projects, which were basically PowerPoint presentations on 1) surveys they handed out to Canterburians on basically whatever they wanted.

Lucky Ducks! I say. I want to go to Canterbury for a week to work on my English! That's one better than the other 4th form class, who went to London (sorry, Londoners, I don't dig...)

Like, seriously. My high school foreign language classes never got to go anywhere. Not even to Montreal, even though I begged the French club. And set up a bake sale three years in a row. To what avail? We made enough to cover the cost of buying T-shirts. Whoopee.

So, yeah, these Austrian teenagers have it pretty good. And their English is good (way better, I'd say, than any average American teen's German -- *suppressed chortle*) Nevertheless, they could stand some improvement. I mean, they are not always intelligible...

For example, they love putting double negatives in (I think they're confusing French and English for some reason) and "None of the questioners wanted to comment on the Queen" becomes "None of the questioners don't can comment on the Queen" which...well, go figure.

And when I brought this to their attention, they got all defensive, like, "This is our first real English presentation!" To which the teacher said, "Yes, and if you had been presenting a business idea to English clients, they would have laughed you out of the seminar room." SO...meanwhile, I feel that my correcting their English was somewhat nicer put. Maybe? I mean, if that's typical Austrian teacher-student intercourse, then hell, I can say whatever I want to them, right?

Maybe not. Because, at the end of the day, even if the students are used to abuse, I'm not Austrian, so I can't contribute.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Weingut -- Wein? Gut!

Monday I went to the Weinviertel with Klaus and Ilsa - my "host people" (for lack of a better term). I also got to meet Ilsa's mother ("Oma" - she did introduce herself, but, um...when you're used to being called "Grandma" you kind of don't mind if people don't know your real given name...)

It was really awesome! We sampled some typical Austrian wines (mostly Grüner Veltliner) but also some Rieslings, a Traminer...etc. We went to three different Weinguts, that is, wineries...or wine-growing estates...

Each was different and offered different specialties, which I enjoyed. I tried to keep them all straight, but by the end of the afternoon (it must be said) I just had had too much wine! Each place is family-run and -owned, so there is a real homey atmostphere. Klaus and Ilsa told me that they had been going to one of the wine farms for over 20 years, and knew the whole family. I found that kind of amazing.

Another interesting aspect of Austrian wine culture is the Heurige, which means both "new wine" and the place where the vintners showcase their new wines once they come out -- which should be pretty soon! Exciting stuff. Depending on whether the Heurige is owned by the vintners, or by a local Gasthaus (Pension), they open between mid-October and early November. 

Here are some photos of the last place we went.

Unfortunately, there are no photos of the other 2 places. One was in a dungeon (OK. Wine cellar) which did not make for a photographic scene.

The second place was actually in the home of the Weinbauer and, yes, they introduced me as the American teaching assistant (probably a precaution against my sitting there looking stupid) but I still feel uncomfortable taking pictures in people's homes uninvited. I don't want to get a reputation as one of those Americans, you know. Even if it is for the sake of my blog.

Below are the grapes they gave us at the second place. I've eaten them all ready and they were super yummy!

The one downside is that they had seeds. Which makes for a messy snack, but even better, you know they didn't put disgusting chemicals on the grapes to make them "seedless" i.e. infertile.

A closer look at the grapes -->

AND...the piece de resistance: 

This is all of the wine Klaus and Ilsa bought...over 300 Euros' worth!!! My kind of people :)

Naturhistorisches Museum - Vienna

If you, like me, contemplated becoming a paleontologist at the tender age of - six? Maybe nine - you, too, will love one of Europe's oldest collections of rocks and junk. Otherwise known as the Vienna Natural History Museum.

They have a Darwin exhibit going on now, which was relatively interesting. I actually read On the Origin of Species in high school, and read up on Darwin's personal life, so most of it was not new. But, hey, I liked it, and it was worth the effort.

The permanent exhibits date from about 250 years ago, when Emperor Franz I (Maria Theresia's hubby) bought a bunch of stuffed animals off of the Florentine scholar Johann Ritter von Baillou.

Later, the collection was enriched with Montezuma's Emeralds (supposedly brought back from Mexico by Hernan Cortez - and you know how the Hapsburgs got their fingers into everything in Europe). Maria Theresia kept them by her bed...

Also interesting is the Planetenmaschine - Astrolabe in English? it is the oldest in the world, built in 1750 by Johann Georg Nesstfell.

Awesome, huh? You are not supposed to touch it, and I don't know if it works anymore, but in 1750, it could see four of Jupiter's moons and five of Saturn's! High-tech for the era, no?

Other things of interest, of course: dinosaurs!


Precambrian seashells

They have several rooms devoted to dinosaurs...not, perhaps, a Sue like at the Field Museum in Chicago (who can beat Sue, right?) but nevertheless, I was wandering around going: "Cool!" Or, as one might say in German, "Kool!" Just kidding...people would probably think you're asking for a menthol cigarette...

AND, the building itself is spectacular! WOWIE! It's worth it just to go to the museum to see the great room, and the staircase:

And this delightful guy (some sort of amphibious tetrapod) is coming out of the case...just like he would have in the late Devonian period! LOL. This really was just too funny...

Another thing the museum is noted for is its HUGE collection of meteorites...quite a bit bigger than its dinosaur collection, actually:

And this is a piece of moon rock brought home in 1973 from one of the Apollo missions.

more meteorites

And, last but not least, the Venus of Willendorf (ca. 25,000 years ago) : 

The Ice Age conception of beauty...well, she who can store fat survives the winter, right? Which is probably where the modern problem of having too much fat and not enough lean winters is hitting the current human population in the gut (pun intended :) ).

She is one of the oldest instances of sculpture in existence - by no means something to sneeze at (or on, though she is protected by a bullet-proof glass case)!

OK, also for the Greek freaks...yes, she predates the mythological conception of Venus by some 20,000 years. Do not blame me. Some anthropology dude who was also obviously in love with antiquities named her. Think of her as some Earth-mother equivalent.

Reproduction of Woolly Rhinoceros

There was also a very cool exhibit of this paleolithic family's grave site (relatively recently, it got into the news...if anyone can share a link, please do). Out of respect for them, I guess...I don't know why, but I'm oddly superstitious at times...I did not take a picture. To me, it's like not taking pictures at funerals, or at cemeteries. You just don't, even if science is involved. So...bottom line, you should just go to Vienna and see that one for yourself. :)