Tuesday, December 24, 2013
After what has begun to seem like a long stretch of months, my husband and I are becoming accustomed to feeling a bit different from everyone around us. I don't mean that in an awkward way, but in the sense of being foreign. And though we are starting to understand more and more of the intricacies present in Austrian life, we do not yet identify with all of them, or even most of them, for that matter. We have enjoyed experiencing a new culture; it has certainly been an adventure, one that we are excited to continue. But on occasion, such as during the holidays, we get a tiny bit homesick, as do I imagine a good number of people.
But, in a fortunate 'Christmas Miracle' sort of way, we are hosting my mother for this Christmas and New Year's in Vienna. So the three of us are exploring an old fashioned European Chirstmas. While sadly we have no snow on the ground, the beauty of the Christmasmarkts remains unparalleled. Above you can see the tree and the lights at the Rathausplatz Christmasmarkt, our second stop on the Vienna Amazing Christmas Race. Our first visit, on Saturday, was to the Schoenbrunn Christmasmarkt. Nestled in front of the Versailles style palace in an large oval, wooden booths neighbored one another so closely as to form a sort of a wall. In the center of the oval were several small, umbrella style pavilions, housing outdoor heaters, as well as food and drink booths. We looked at the traditional Christmas wares sold at the first dozen or so booths before we were cold enough to require gluehwein, the Austrian mulled wine ubiqutious at outdoor winter events. We bought it at the food stand, where it was being offered in commemorative mugs. We then ventured closer to the heart of the markt, where a huge tree stood, alit with Christmas lights, in front of a small stage. The front of the stage was a huge glass case, displaying an exquisitely detailed nativity scene, complete with a bejewelled elephant at the birth of Christ.
For lunch we each sampled something different, as Mom had a chocolate waffle, Jonathan some nockeln (noodles) with cheese, and I had what was advertised as the best wurst (sausage) in town. The sausage was indeed excellent, and was housed in a cheesy pastry that really sealed the deal. We ate huddled along the standing counter space next to the heater, trying to stay warm. As we ate, a jazz ensemble played Christmas music from the adjacent, small stage by the nativity. Jon was so thrilled with his cheesy noodles that I eventually commented, "I guess you can take the boy out of Wisconsin, but you can't take the cheese out of the Wisconsinite."
And before we knew it, the couple that had been standing by us for a while jumped in and asked Jon about Wisconsin. As it turns out, the guy was from Wisconsin, and we spent the rest of the afternoon listening to more live Christmas music, sampling the different punschen (punches), and chatting with the Americans.
The favorite was definitely the Baileyspunsch, no surprise there, and mom loved the a capella choir that performed after the jazz ensemble. She also found some ornaments she liked, cutout paper scenes, but they seemed quite pricey so we vowed to look again Sunday at the next markt. When the heater and the punsch could no longer keep us warm, we headed home and snuggled up in front of the movie The Holiday with potato corn chowder. We each took turns dosing on the couch or in the man chair while we watched, and before long we called it a night.
The next morning we had a late breakfast and planned our second day of Christmasmarkt discoveries. We started at Rathausplatz, which was amazingly beautiful. Mom bought some funny Austrian Christmas people ornaments to take home as gifts, and we again were forced to have some gluehwein to stave off the chill. For lunch we had soup in breadbowls, eating gulash and beer and bread soup beneath the gigantic Christmas tree. After making our way through all the booths at Rathausplatz, we forged ahead to what was described by a few of my colleagues as more authentic of a Christmasmarkt, the Freyung. This markt was small, and right out of an old Christmas story. You half expected Scrooge to show up. It was tiny by comparison to theRathausmarkt, with not more than 50 booths pressed close to one another to shoulder out the cold wind. The ever present gluehwein and punsch were available, and of course Jon's favorite store was the cold meat counter, where endless salamis dangled above all kinds of other cuts of meat. High above them all, perched on the top of the meat booth, was the markt's Christmas tree, shining with lights. Mom bought a chocolate that looked like a whoopie pie, but later she said it was marzipan.
The cold was closing in on us again, so we pressed on toward our goal: Christmas lights at the Graben. To get there we of course had to pass through yet another, tiny local Christmasmarkt which was also very cute. By then the lights had started, large cylinders of Christmas lights hanging far above us in the streets. We followed them to the Graben, where stings of Christmas lights had been fashioned to simulate chandeliers in a ballrooms, each 'chandelier' rising over 12 feet tall, suspended overhead in twinkling splendour. This was our crown jewel, so to speak, and it was worth not being able to feel our toes. We stopped on our way back at the historic and iconic Cafe Landtmann's to warm up. We were lucky to find seats right away, and from the window one could easily see the lights at the incredible Rathausplatz Christmasmarkt, which were breathtaking. Mom and I had hot chocolates, and Jon had a classic Viennese hot drink called a Tiger Milk. We were happy to sit and enjoy the magic of the millions of twinkly lights, but we were also happy for the chance to warm up. As we made our way back through the Rathausplatz for a final photo at night, the crowds were thick and we smiled, knowing we had been lucky visit it earlier, when we had the chance to see it all and explore, but still to have the pictures of it at night was priceless. We went home to a hot meal and Chevy Chase National Lampoon's Christmas Holiday.
Monday was a day of shopping, and how we were able to dodge the crowds I will never know but will always be grateful for. For dinner, we had a reservation at Le Loft, on the 18th floor of the Sofitel at Schwedenplatz. Our table overlooked the Donau canal, but there was so much fog we felt like we were eating in a cloud. It was very serene, and gave the city lights below us a soft, effusive effect, cloaking the city in mystery. Our food was delicious, and we even had wine and dessert. The chef sent our table soup samples before our main course, and after our dessert he also sent us a sample of tiny pastries. We came home after our lavish dinner and curled up in front of the TV, where I fell asleep while Mom and Jon watched reruns of Castle.
I have posted many of our pictures on Facebook and Twitter already, and several of our friends and family have commented on our Christmas adventures so far. We are happy to have the chance to share our Christmas with so many of our loved ones, and if any of you are able to join us for an upcoming holiday season, we would be excited to show you all of this in person. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Monday, December 9, 2013
Pringle is a young hippopotamus living in Lake Naivasha with his family. He lives with his mom, Hattie, and dad, Humphrey.
Pringle also has an Aunt Helen and Uncle Hubert. Their son, Henry, is Pringle's age and they are best friends. Pringle's grandparents, Hilda and Hammond, live nearby as well, though they were displeased when Pringle was named, as they felt he should have a family name, such as Hammond the second.
Pringle has other friends in the Lake as well, including Pete the great white pelican and his wife, Penelope. Pringle and Henry go to Lake Naivasha school, where they learn about ecosystems and the importance of environmental and wildlife conservation. But what Pringle would really like to know is why is he different from all the other hippos, even his family?
But for all the esteem of the Lake Naivasha School, no one could answer Pringle's question. In fact, they advised him to ask his parents, and so Pringle decided to do just that.
"Well son," Pringle's dad begins, "you know we often see humans on the lake. They come here to watch us. I know you learn about them at your school. We hope that they will continue to try to protect us from disappearing habitats and extinction. But there is more to them than meets the eye."
Pringle is fascinated, and waits patiently and quietly to hear more of the story.
"You see, Pringle," Humphrey continues, "humans aren't like us. They aren't sure they will be able to find food, so they carry it with them often."
Of course this idea is hard for Pringle to understand, because for him, the Lake provides everything he needs.
"Now I know that sounds odd, but it can be a good thing for us too." Pringle's dad explains, "sometimes they bring food with them onto the lake."
"But dad, the lake has food in it already! Why would anyone bring more food?" Pringle asks.
"Son, humans eat different food than we do, at least as far as I can make out." Humphrey answers, "but to get back to the story, Pringle, that is exactly how you got your name."
"I don't want to be named after human food, dad, that sounds awful!" Pringle exclaimed. "And I don't want to be the only hippopotamus with a P name. I am supposed to have an H name. Grandpa and Grandma told me."
"Now, son, you interrupted the story. Where were we? Ah yes, Pringles. When your mom was pregnant with you, we saw a boat full of humans. One of the humans was pregnant too, and she was holding a can that said Pringles. Every time the water rippled, she would eat a handful of something out of the can. But once your mother got closer to the boat to investigate, she startled the pregnant human who dropped the can. Out floated these thin, curled crisps, which your mother absolutely had to try! She loved them and ate all she could. And later, when we picking out a name for you, she told me: 'I hope our baby is brave, Humphrey. Brave enough to transcend borders; brave enough to show humans why we deserve a place here and why they should protect our home and our species. '"
Humphrey then tells Pringle, "and so I told your mom right then that I knew our baby would be just like that, because your mom was so brave to want to see the humans and learn more about them. I said we should name you Pringle. And your mom wanted to send you to the Lake Naivasha School, even though it is expensive and we have had to make sacrifices to be able to afford it. But she wanted you to have the best education available for a hippo, so that you could do something great with your life."
"Wow." Pringle wishes he could think of a better response, but he is a little overwhelmed. "Can I ask Mom about this too?" He asks his dad.
"Of course, son," Humphrey answers.
Pringle thinks about it for a little while before asking Hattie. "Mom, I asked dad why I was named Pringle, and he told me about when you met the humans and sending me to school."
"Is that so honey?" Hattie answered. "And so what do you think about it?"
"Well, since I will be educated in conservation I would want to make a difference, make the world a better place for hippos. Is my name special enough to achieve that, do you think?"
"Pringle, your name is unique, but it is you that is special, dear." His mom tells him.
"Really? So you think I could do that?" He asks her.
"Pringle you can do anything you want darling, and if will always be proud of you." She answers.
"That's what I want to do, mom, but can I tell you something?" Pringle asks a little sheepishly.
"Of course, babe, what is it?" She tries to reassure him.
"It's a little scary to think of doing it all by myself, Mom. Is that bad?" Pringle asks her.
"Maybe you won't have to sweetie, maybe you won't have to," Hattie mysteriously murmurs.
"You know what I wish for, mom? A little sister, she could help me. We could become hippo ambassadors. And she should have a P name, like me. Maybe Priscilla? We could be unique together, and we would work with the humans to conserve our world."
"You know what, Pringle? You may just want to tell Santa about that wish, and see if he brings it for you" Hattie smiled, and hoped her current pregnancy wouldn't be too noticeable until Christmas...
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Saturday, November 30, 2013
The hippos have random bouts of group grunting and sometimes stand up in the small pond, looking like rising land masses. The elephant has sauntered toward the brush now, moving nearer the zebra in his eternal quest for groceries and the storks that were previously avoiding him are spreading their wings to stand and sun along the bank.
A group of Indian people stopped by, briefly to see the big game and to order a drink to go, but just now our only company is a smartly dressed bartender and a small black and white monkey relaxing in a tree by the door. Intriguingly, the little monkey has remarkably bright blue testicles, such that they surely cannot be naturally occurring. The best description I can currently offer is robin's egg blue, though I know it sounds unbelievable.
These little guys roam the property, testing guests' door handles for unlocked rooms they can pillage and hissing and slapping the ground if you get to close to them. Nonetheless, we have decided to accept our mission: to ascertain whether the blue balls are natural or artificial. The execution of our plan is simple; survey the testicles of as many hotel monkeys as possible, even including digital documentation. After all, this experiment is conducted in the name of science!
And so we set out from our perch at the multi-species refreshing water hole to photo log our first subject. As he was casually relaxing in a tree near the Hippo Bar's exit, it was easy to approach him and snap an iPhone picture. Upon relatively close inspection, it did indeed appear that the testicles in question were not only bright blue, but also that this could actually have been Mother Nature's intention.
Obviously science demands additional proof, and thus our search continued. As we sought larger sample size, it was fortunate that another mischievous primate had arrived on the deck, running lithe but lazily along the handrail. We scouted out the necessary details and discovered a second pair of blue balls.
As we wandered from the deck toward the lodge, we saw several more monkeys, two of whom we're playing in a hammock hung out on the lawn in the shade. Sure enough, blue balls were a theme amongst the Y chromosome influenced monkeys, and we therefore drew our scientific conclusions before readying ourselves for one last game drive through the evening Maasai Mara.
Sunday, November 10, 2013
Ellen and Jade stepped off the elevator and into the lobby. It looked like they were the first tour members to arrive at the meeting point, though tour guide Jennifer was nearby, standing between the concierge and the complimentary phones at the side of the large room. Jennifer was staring at a man on the phone, without so much as a dash of subtlety to her, and within an instant, Ellen and Jade could appreciate why. The man was practically shouting into the phone, using every obscenity Jade had ever heard, as well as some she had not heard previously. As he slammed the receiver back into its cradle and turned to stomp off, he found himself in front of a stern faced Jennifer, bright red hair flaming.
“Do you talk to your mother with that mouth?” She asked him blatantly. The man sort of chuckled, and Jennifer turned sweet as pie and said, “I’ve always hoped to meet an Irish man, but if that’s how you talk to your mother, then I cannot go out with you.” Jade swore Jennifer’s eyelashes fluttered a bit while she was saying this, and the man melted like butter. He smiled and stuttered excuses and explanations, and even tried to flirt a bit. Jade could see his demeanor change once again when he realized he’d already been curtly dismissed, and he retreated hastily toward the street exit, but Jade’s astute eye had already caught on. She had a new found respect for Jennifer, and she resolved to tuck that trick away into her repertoire, just in case she ever needed it.
The rest of the tour group showed up and they were herded, like so many of the sheep they’d seen from the road during the day’s long drive, into transit to the pub. They arrived before the yellow façade of a place called ‘The Lisheen, ‘ which meant nothing to them by name but everyone hurried inside anyway as they were hungry and ready for a pint all around.
As the tour group filed upstairs where there dinner would be served, they noticed the downstairs pub was similar to last night’s fare. Dinner options were lamb stew, fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, and roast chicken with potatoes, of course. This time Ellen had the shepherd’s pie and Jade chose the chicken. Both meals were hearty and warming, and Jade hoped her mother was on the mend from her chill earlier in the day. The girls chatted at dinner with tour mates Brian and Linda, as well as the other group members, who were all beginning to bond into a cohesive unit of American travelers abroad. Their time was easy, and they enjoyed one another’s company, before once again being herded like livestock, this time down to the first floor pub. As they descended, they could hear the typical evening pub din of voices, but here it was fleshed out by instruments here and there, as if warming up to play. As Jade rather timidly approached the bar, a random Irish man perched on a bar stool asked her, “American are ye then, lass?”
He had asked it as if it were the most natural course of action and conversation ever conceived, and even appeared a bit taken aback when she unknowingly displayed her surprise. “Um, yes, actually,” Jade managed to reply while not exactly making eye contact with the Irishman. Not that she could have had she earnestly attempted it, he was staring steadfastly into his pint.
“Right, well then barkeep, we’ll both have a pint on that. Or do ye want Budweiser?” He afforded her a sidelong glance with that last question, as it was baited.
“No, thank you, I’d prefer Guinness,” Jade asserted.
“Good answer, lass,” the barfly retorted, “because then I’m buying for ye. No need for that horsepiss of American beer when ye can have good auld Guinness as God himself intended.” Jade was pretty sure the older gentleman sincerely meant everything he’d just intimated, as his expression was as heartfelt as his speaking voice.
“Thank you, sir,” she said simply as she reached for her foamy pint. Brian and Linda were just picking their heady brews up as well, and they all turned as one when the violin whined loudly.
A cheer went up, it seemed as this was a cue of sorts. By now, cigarette smoke could be seen clinging to the already low ceiling, but the threesome wandered over toward Ellen, who had somehow procured a small corner booth, into which they all squeezed. By now the music had begun in earnest, and Jade found herself straining to hear Brian as he all but shouted, “this must be what Jennifer meant by craic!” The entire pub was chockablock full of mismatched souls. One imagined it must be a variegated mix of locals, Irish natives, tourists American and European alike.
But the violin swelled and fiddled, someone chimed in on an archaic looking set of alien bagpipes, and a chubby, red faced man huffed and puffed perched on a chair while squeezing his accordion with all his might. If you looked closely you could spot someone playing the spoons on his knee, and yet another violin off in the corner. The music was rowdy and lively, but so was the crowd – in no time the pub goers were singing along loudly and everyone seemed to know all the words regardless of what the musicians played. It was a prime example of good old fashioned craic, as cannot be explained until it has been experienced firsthand. Minutes quickly absolved into hours, and before Jade could realize it, the night had been lost. Ellen was exhausted, while Jade was exhilarated. The tour group parted ways; some rode back to the Imperial on the transit, while many walked the distance in the cool night air under the guidance and company of Jennifer and her co-guide, Andrea.
Monday, November 4, 2013
Sunday, November 3, 2013
SchweizerHaus is an open air restaurant in the Viennese Prater that runs from March through October. The Prater is a fascinating place in the heart of the city of Vienna. It is a park divided into two separate parks: one is the Austrian equivalent of Central Park, though apparently it is much larger; and the other half is an amusement park, much like Coney Island or Navy Pier. But more on that later...
We took the U Bahn from Floridsdorf and then walked to the SchweizerHaus, which means Swiss House in German. This place is legendary here for its traditional Austrian food. Of particular note is the pork shank, which appears to be roasted and is HUGE. Literally, we watched a family of four across from us share one pork shank. We heard that some of them weigh up to a kilo, or 2.2 pounds to us. And that isn't all - it comes with a bread basket, coleslaw salad, and fresh ground horseradish and mustard.
Did I mention, the Swiss House is a biergarten? Reportedly home of the original Budweiser, in fact. So we felt obligated to try, for the sake of an old fashioned Austrian custom.
Our drinks came out first, mostly because I ordered the Backhendl, which is fried chicken and takes 20 minutes. But we waited patiently, watching the family foursome at the next table decimate their roasted pork. Above us through the tress we could see one of the rides, a giant communal swing lifting numbers of people into the air and swirling them all in a lazy spiral.
When our food arrived, we quickly learned that it was well worth the time. Jon ordered the Budweiserfleisch, basically pork steak slow braised in beer with the most delicious dumplings and gravy. As previously discussed, I got the fried chicken. Now, the chicken was fantastic, don't get me wrong. But, it was no replacement for Southern Fried Chicken, delicious though it was:)
I will admit that, at first, I did not understand all the rage behind Sacher torte in Austria. I mean, it seems like a really big deal here. And not just in Vienna. When Mom and I were in Salzburg (where happily neither of us lost our skirts) it was a big deal there, too. We went to this famous coffee shop because it was blustery and cold, and we had already eaten Kase krainers with mustard and semmel rolls. And everyone in this coffee shop, which was chocker block full, was ordering Sacher torte with their coffee. We just got a cafe Melange and a Heisse Schokolade for Mom, and they came out on these dainty little silver trays with a shot glass of water and a little wafer cookie. Very classy!
But, back to the Sacher torte. The cake itself is rather dry, and I feel compelled to confess that most Americans are more interested in moist cake, namely Duncan Hines. Perhaps, though, that is the real beauty behind the Sacher torte. The dryness lends a whisper of airiness, which turns out to be the perfect complement to the chocolate ganache encasing the cake. Then there is the filling. I don"t even know if it is orange or what exactly, but it just perfumes the torte without being sickeningly sweet or gooey.
You may ask why any of this is important, and that is a fair question. What I think is, this moment, when someone understands the harmonious balance of the Sacher torte, is when you offically become an expatriate. Sure, sure, we went to the official expatriate event for October, but I am telling you, the first time you show up for a morning meeting at work where everyone has a cup of Viennese coffee in one hand and a piece of Sacher torte in the other....that is the real moment. And possibly more important, it makes a breakfast to rival even the viennoiserie pastries;)
Possibly even cuter was when my Austrian coworker told me my picture of this Sacher torte (served at work) was not fit for a blog post picture because it wasn't served properly on a silver dish...
Friday, October 25, 2013
In any case, we will be attending the One Million Members event here in Vienna and I am already signed up to blog about it:)
You see, in an effort to increase my humble blogspot readership, I have become a guest blogger on the InterNations website. In addition, InterNations has approved 2FatGirlsonaVolcano as one of their featured blogs! You can check it out below, if you scroll down to their badge of approval:)
I am very excited to be featured on InterNations, and I hope my fellow expats enjoy 2FatGirlsonaVolcano as well as Jon and my zany adventures abroad...
Thursday, October 24, 2013
I have an opportunity to submit 2FatGirlsonaVolcano for publication as a travel memoir. Now, I am not getting my hopes up. But I do want to submit my best foot forward, so to speak. So, please, please consider a few key problems my submission must address:
- what is unique about 2FatGirlsonaVolcano? Why is is sale-able?
- am I qualified to offer it from an author perspective? How so?
- other than my mildly successful efforts at global social media dominance, what are some valid and lucrative means by which I could market 2FatGirls?
If you have any ideas for me on these questions, please contact me via Twitter: @jmrosser58, LinkedIn: Julie Rosser, Facebook: Julie Rosser, Google+: JM Welch, Pinterest: Julie Rosser, Instagram: jmrosser
Every little bit helps, and as I near 2000 page views, we can only hope and pray that my vision for 2FatGirls can be realized...
Thank you for reading and responding!
Sunday, October 13, 2013
Sunday, September 29, 2013
As we stood on the footbridge in the chilly wind, we saw trees changing colors, and closed off beaches. Although the Eisdiele was still open and quite tempting, we had to admit that Fall has arrived in Vienna.
However, as it is our first fall here, we are looking forward to all it has to offer: changing leaves, Oktoberfest, Sturm, and hopefully more surpirses too!
And we can't wait for winter to bring us some pretty white snow, when we can break out the snowshoes and our skies currently crowding our abstellraum.
Don't forget that our cute little flat has heaters in perfect working order in every room, including the guest room. When you come visit we can introduce you to yummu gluhwein...