Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Hippo Bar

As I write this, Jon and I are sitting at the Keekorok Lodge's Hippo Bar in the Maasai Mara Wildlife Reserve. The bar, of course, is aptly named for the resident hippopotami population happily lounging in the muddy pond to our left. They are casually accompanied by a small crocodile, currently submerged having formerly sunned on the tiny beach. The landscape itself is, however, overshadowed at the moment by a lone adult elephant. He seems nonchalant as he meanders along the shore line munching on green grass and intermittently refreshing himself from the warming sun with sips of cool water. Much the same are our friends, the wallowing hippos, often splashing and occasionally snorting. In contrast are the herds of zebra distantly surrounding us, a few of which yammer out their distinct call frequently.  It seems they are keeping the kids in line, so to speak. 

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

Good Old Fashioned Craic

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 fa├žade 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

The Expat Experience

As previously announced here at 2 Fat Girls on a Volcano, this little blog has become a  featured blog on InterNations.org.  And in recognition of that, this little page bears a badge of InterNation honor.  But finally, we were able to physically attend one of the InterNations events.  We went to Stadtpark and walked a short block through the dusky park to the InterContinental Hotel.  The lights on the marble entryway to the park were soft and pretty, and it started to sprinkle as we were ushered into the hotel lobby. 


 The bar at the hotel had the most  beautiful chandelier, and we were early enough to get seats at the bar.  When we gave our names at the podium, we got InterNations poker chips as free drink tokens.  The drink choices were beer or gin and tonic.  Jon got the beer and I went with the gin and tonic.  Pretty soon we struck up a conversation with a man and woman standing behind us.  They had met before at one of these events and were chatting about work stress and how busy they were.  Her name was Irina, which is a gorgeous name, and she was from Ukraine.  She had very blonde hair, like mine, but with a sassy hair cut, and perfectly applied red lipstick.  He was Andreas, and was actually from Vienna, though he had only recently moved back. 
Andreas had probably the coolest job of the half dozen people we met that night; he made fashion accessories out of airplane paraphernalia. As examples, he showed us a wallet made from the  yellow life jackets stashed under the airplane seats, and his belt, of course made from an airline seat belt.  Next we met, Lili, my favorite acquaintance of  the night.  She was tall with long dark hair and was  very glamorous.  Lili was from Hungary, but she spoke good English and we struck up quite a conversation, for about an hour.  We also met her friends, Dina and Zophie, both of whom were from Budapest.  Jon had fun getting everyone we met their respected name tags from the table at the back of the room.  We headed home just as the event was strongly gaining steam, as I had journal  club early the next morning and we had our boy Jackson to get home to.  There had been 600 people signed up to come to this event, so we knew it would be busy.  But we thought maybe for our next event, we would try a smaller group so that we might meet some couples that we could talk with a little more.  So I started looking into some of the groups and their activities and I found more options than we could even consider.  Some of the front runners for us were tennis, couples ballroom dancing, Sunday brunching, and professional networking.  There is even a running group that Jon can join!  And then there are others, too, like scuba diving and traveling and movie watching.  So even if we didn't already have enough here in Europe to see and do, we could do all kinds of exploring through our very active Vienna InterNations.  But, as yet we don't have many friends on the website, so if you'd like to check it out, please visit InterNations.org and look for Jon and I!  Happy adventuring:)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Swiss House


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:)
After dinner we walked through the amusement park.  Jon won a tiny but loud green kazoo whistle at an archery booth, which he proceeded to blow almost incessantly.  All in all it was a perfect way to spend one of the last pretty days of our first Fall in another land.  And we will take all of our friends and family who visit us to the Swiss House!


All American Eggs Benedict



Chili Eggs Benedict

Cornbread muffin
2 eggs over easy
Homemade American style chili
Cheddar cheese

Heat chili and corn muffin appropriately.  Fry two eggs over easy.  Assemble and sprinkle with cheddar cheese and enjoy!

A Day in the Life



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...