Friday, April 30, 2010

Do you see what I see?

There are probably very few places on the planet that are free of junk mail,  or the paper junk that gets dropped at one's door.
Actually,  they have this nifty system here where all the cr*p is in a little plastic bag that one then finds hanging on the outside door knob.  They even have special little bags made for just that purpose.
Mind you,  there have been times when having a bag of junk mail come swinging in at me as I open our door does tend to scare the living daylights out of me,  but I can live with that.
I don't mind perusing the junk mail on the whole,  and the weekly dose does include a small local news blurb having to do with the seventh district here in Vienna.

Every so often though,  something stands out.

Kind of like a snippet into the Austrian psyche. 

Do you see what's wrong with this picture?

If you right click on that one and open it in a new window,  that works better.

First of all,  as a Canadian the "opening" and "closing" of the BBQ season has never been something I've felt required overly close observation.   I barbecue all year long,  and unless there's a blinding snow storm and I simply cannot see the BBQ,  it's just another means of cooking as far as I'm concerned.
I'm out there.

Pretty sure I'm not alone in this.

Secondly,  why are these two men only onlookers?  

This is very disturbing.  These two need a slap.   They need to be at the controls,  or out of the picture entirely.  I cannot stress this enough. 

What's more disturbing is the number of females on the left who are gawking at what's on the grill.  I just don't get it,  and I'm not about to make any assumptions.    No flames please.  (oh,  a bit of a pun there...)

Meanwhile,  I just now got back from a brief trip to the parking garage to check the GPS for foreign countries.  I do know we had no problems getting to Prague back in February,  so I was hopeful.
Turns out we have quite the selection,  including some places where I'll never want to go,  like Moldova or Bosnia-Herzegovina, but I was mostly concerned that we had Slovenia.
It's in there.

Tomorrow is a holiday here in Wienerland,  since it's May First.   In keeping with the whole above mentioned "backwards"  theme,  it's "Labour Day".
Yes...I know.  I don't understand either.

See,  we're blowing on outta town,  since we decided to take a little road trip down to Slovenia for the weekend.   Yesterday I booked us a room at the Villa Bled,  which was a stopping off point last year at Easter when we came down from the Netherlands.  We didn't stay the night that time,  but only stopped for lunch. 
It was on that trip that I made two discoveries.  The first was that the Audi DID NOT have Slovenia in the data base.   The second one was that my Nikon decided to take a nap right around Innsbruck.    Had to ship it back to Canada under warranty.  I ranted enough about that at the time,  and I'm over it now.   It has worked fine ever since,  even though I have this sneaking suspicion that the exposure is slightly off.
Could be my eyesight,  but I doubt it.
As much as we enjoyed the Audi,  the Navigation System was....and I'd like to make use of a highly technical term here in describing poorly engineered information technology....  STUPID.
So I broke down and bought a map.  Actually,  I had to buy a lot of maps,  and we have maps for every nook and cranny on this side of the pond,  since it's really hard to trust a Nav system that can't even find a German address in Germany,  in a German car.

BMW seems to have it figured out.

I seem to be getting off on a rant here,  so I'll just leave that whole Nav thing in the past.  It's someone else's problem now.
Oh...funny thing.   Not long after the new person got the Audi,  there was an email,  "is there more to the data base?"

Nope.   Sorry Dude.

Wanna buy some maps?


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Out and about.

Or is it,  "oot and aboot"?   I don't know.  Seems there are those who think Canadians tend to say those two words in a rather strange fashion.  I don't hear it.
I'm sort of rambling just a bit here since I've had some trouble coming up with titles lately.
Sometimes I sit and stare at that blank field for several minutes before attempting to slap something in there.
I can just imagine how much white out I'd go through if we were somehow in the typewriter age.  Scary.
Truth be told,  I would have given up long ago.

A while back,  I stumbled upon a web-based group here in Vienna,  and after hearing some news that came back to me by way of my travelling companion through one of her associates,  (got that?)  I decided to sign up.
This is in spite of those sage words of Groucho Marx who once said,  "I'd never belong to any club that would have me as a member",  or something to that effect.

Now,  the thing about joining any group or club or whatever,  is that one really should try and participate.  Probably why I rarely "join up".   Note reference to laziness in previous posts.
So when there was the chance to show up for one of the "German Conversation Evenings",  I decided to sign up and show up.
It just so happened that my travelling companion was at her second office up in Shrems,  with the intention of staying the night,  so I was on my own anyway.

Just a lonely guy in a lonely town.

I figured,  the food at Café Prükel is reported to be adequate,  and I was sure the beer would be fine.  I don't mind meeting people,  and I have a reasonable grasp of German,  so why not?
There were only four of us,  which was fine by me,  and I tried not to hog the conversation.
I've been advised that this can sometimes be a problem of mine.

The details of the evening are unimportant.  I met some decent folks,  got to yak.  Had a couple libations and dinner.
The thing that I came away with,  was the realisation of the entirely serendipitous set of circumstances that has brought me to this (mostly) German speaking city.  Who would have thunk,  that when I finished a degree in German Literature over 30 years ago,   that I would end up here?

It's kinda crazy.

Of course,  I do realise that having written some essay or other on Thomas Mann's "Der Tod in Venedig"  isn't going be too damned helpful when you're looking for pork tenderloin at the butcher.
That's fine.
But it surely doesn't hurt.

The frustration in the air last night was almost palpable.  Kind of like the humidity we get in the North East.  You could almost chew it.
This is when I realise how "horseshoe up the poop-chute"  lucky I really am.  It's very hard to know when one should jump in and try to "help", without being a complete boor,  and moreover I really didn't have any way of "channelling"  German into the mouths of these people.
I can only imagine how lost I would be if we had ended up in some place like Abu Dhabi (like that would happen)  but I should think the people there speak more English than the Austrians.
 In some respects I'm in complete awe of anyone who up and moves to a foreign country,  whether for a job or whatever reason,  when they also have the insurmountable task of  learning a new language.

Not sure I could do it.


Monday, April 26, 2010

Not Poutine.

But Putin.

Apparently he was in town for a judo match.  This was something I had noticed in the Kurier,  which is the newspaper that I pick up on a Saturday morning and peruse over the next day and a half,  but I didn't really pay much attention since I don't really give a rat's tiny behind what any foreign dignitaries are up to.
There was something about him,  along with something to do with judo,  but I didn't bother turning to page 18 or where ever it was to see what they were talking about.
You see a lot these types of shenanigans in Vienna where there's a line of black limos and bunch of cops driving furiously through town.  The self importance of the whole spectacle is enough to make you want to pick up some sort of projectile.

Probably not a wise choice.

So when we were strolling back to the subway stop after dining out Saturday night at "Frank's American Bar and Restaurant"  we were somewhat bemused when we encountered one of these spectacles outside another restaurant on Wollzeile
We're talking barricades to keep back the throngs,  a line of black cars,  along with what must have been at least two dozen cops and/or military types.
We didn't really hang around,  since neither of us could care less,  and it wasn't until today (Monday)  that I found out who was there.  Seems one of my travelling companion's associates passed on the info.
I suppose being able to get that sort of info is easier if you happen to have TV. 
Oh dear,  my life is in a shambles.

That would also explain the rather annoying helicopters that were flying over the first district on both Saturday and Sunday.  I guess it was the media.  I suppose I'll never really know.
Again,  would like to mention just how much I'll be lying awake at night wondering what I'm missing by not having TV.


Saturday was a shopping day again.

Just in case you somehow think I'm exaggerating,  I took a shot of the throng at Stephansplatz.   

At least this time we made a bee-line to the one shop we wanted to visit,  and only briefly looked around for a somewhat better computer bag.   Nothing jumped out at us,  so we got on the subway and got outta there.

Vienna would be just lovely if it weren't for all those people.

As I write this,  I can't help but be aware of just how many aircraft are coming in out of the West.  My guesstimate would be one plane every five minutes or so.   Usually the flights are going OUT of Vienna on a Monday morning,  but I suppose there's a whack of catching up to do.

Just glad it doesn't involve me.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

It's story time.

Let me tell you a little story,  whether true or not is unimportant.

Once upon a time,  there was this man and a woman (and actually it could very well have been two women,  but as long as one of them was a woman,  that's all that matters)

They go on vacation.   They go to a quaint little cottage on a beautiful lake where the fishing is supposed to be very good.
Very early one morning,  the gentleman heads out on the little boat he had rented with all his newly purchased fishing equipment to try his luck.
Later in the morning he returns with nothing.
Not a bite,  nothing.
He ties off the boat,  leaves everything behind and slinks back to the cottage.
He passes his companion on the front porch without saying a word,  and goes back to bed.
Since she had already had her breakfast and was well into a good book,  she gets the idea to take the boat out,  drop the anchor and continue to read her book on the lake.

Along comes the Game Warden,  who accuses her of fishing without a license,  and is about to issue the citation, when she calmly explains that if he were to do that,  she'd then  have to charge him with rape.

Astounded,  he asks,  "Why?  I have no intention of molesting you in any way!"

"That doesn't matter,"  she says, "just as you so thoroughly explained to me how I had all this fishing equipment here in the boat with me so therefore I MUST be fishing,  even though I have no intention of doing so,  you Sir have the necessary equipment with which you might possibly rape me....Your intentions are unimportant."

Without saying a word,  he motors away in his little boat,  never to be seen on that lake for the rest of their stay.


OK so,  what's the point of my little story?

Well kids,  here in Wienerland,  if you want to watch TV or listen to radio,  you are required to pay a tax.  It can add up to somewhere in the neighbourhood of €300 a year.
Now,  if I'm going to be in that pricey neighbourhood,  then I'm sure as heck going to be wanting more than a dozen or so schlocky channels in German,  and.....CNN. that's worth €300 a year.   Oh,  and that doesn't include paying for the cable itself.   No no that's extra,  you're just paying the tax.
Ever been forced to watch CNN for hours on end?   Well actually, if you're still with us at this point,  and depending on your mental state,  then you probably haven't,  since you would have done yourself in after about the first hour.

Now before you go all "western civilisation" here on me,  Canada used to have such a critter,  but it was back in the fifties,  and somebody along the way decided it was a dumb idea.  They had a similar tax in the Netherlands up until just a few years ago. 

And while I'm getting slightly hot under the collar here,  let me just mention that as far as the Dutch are concerned,  "Dubbing is for kids",  and by that I mean,  children's programming during the day and after school are either in the original (Dutch) or dubbed into Dutch.   All night time programming is in the original with Dutch subtitles.
Could be English (usually)....might be French.
Might even be Frisian.

So if you want to watch say, "The Simpsons",   then you're going to get all the nuances of the voices that have made it one of the longest running programs in North America.   There's one in Japan that was started in 1969 so no,  not 'the world',  sorry.
But that's just one example.

By the way,  the Dutch take a fair amount of pride in the fact that they can at least understand English,  if not speak it as well.  Most of them,  quite fluently.
Do you think it might help that they watch English programming every single night of the week?  Could this explain why the Germans and Austrians are bumbling idiots when it comes to the English language?  Hm?

See here's the thing,  not only are there only about a dozen channels (plus CNN!!)  but everything,  and I mean everything in dubbed into German!

 I can almost handle that.


Except: 1) My travelling companion has no clue what's going on,  and 2) The guy dubbing Homer Simpson should not also sound strangely similar to Barrack Obama.
I kid you not!

I swear to God they have the same dozen or so mooks doing all the dubbing!
That just doesn't work for me.

So when we finally got our internet and phone,  and don't remind how flippin' long that took to accomplish,  we DID NOT choose to also receive and pay for a cable signal.
However, it doesn't matter whether or not you're actually watching the TV,  or if it's hooked up to anything,  if you have a TV or radio,  you're supposed to pay the tax.   Huh? want to charge me for something I'm not doing,  just because I have the equipment?  Isn't that kinda like the rape story?

So then it happened.   Yesterday some little guy came to the door.   Just as soon as I laid eyes on the little weasel,  I knew exactly what he was up to.
He had his clipboard,  and made sure he showed me his ID.
I immediately knew he was from the "GIS",  which stands for "Gebüren Info Service GMBH"
These are the people that go from door to door signing up those who have not yet registered their TV or radio....

See,  here's the strategy.

1) Speak only English.

2) Act as dumb as a post (not a stretch for me) and

3) Be polite.

Yes,  I know that last one is a bit tough,  but possible.   Shut up.
Unfortunately for him,  since he no doubt watches nothing but shitty Austrian TV in the evenings,  his English was pretty much non-existent.

What a shame.

Ah yes. To have to upper hand.
All the while I'm thinking,  "here's the thing dipshit,  I can communicate in both your language and mine,  but I think we'll just choose mine for the time being,  thank-you".

I made sure there was no maniacal laughter.

So he proceeded to pull out the sheet of paper for them English speaking foreigners,  which meant I had to go get my glasses,  so that I could then pretend to read it ('cause like I don't know what the hell it's saying) and then we had a little talk about power requirements and not shipping a TV from Canada,  and how it was oh so frustrating during the Olympics,  and bla bla bla bla.

All true.

Didn't lie.

 He left.

So sorry.

Meanwhile,  in the bedroom and next to the bed are both the TV and clock radio.    However,  the TV is only hooked to the computer,  and I haven't had to use the clock radio since we had to get up at 4:30 one morning there a few weeks back.

So sue me.

Trust me,  I tried to hook up the damned TV to the cable outlet,  but there's nothing on the back of the TV to allow me to do that!  I need some sort of adapter or box or something.  The chances of there actually being a signal there after I've paid for some high priced box that I can never use again in my life are slim to none,  considering the internet dudes had to run a new cable to get their modem thingy to work.
So that ain't happenin'.

So just let me repeat this.  If we have the TV,  whether it's hooked up or not,  we're supposed to pay the tax.


Bite me.


Monday, April 19, 2010

My idea of window shopping.

And I just realised I reset the "date stamp"  function on that camera.  Not sure I really like that feature, but I'll try it out for a few days.

I came across this cabinet shop this afternoon on a brief bike trip.   The place was closed,  but then again it's Monday.    Seems the "rule" most anywhere in Europe is that,  if you've had to suffer the indignation of being open on Saturday,  then you stay closed on Monday.
It's been working for barbershops for years actually,   and it's not that big a deal,  unless you're some idiot who has just moved from some place like say Canada,  and figures places are simply open during normal business hours.

Took a few fruitless trips over a couple Monday's back in the Netherlands to figure that one out.  My learning curve is well,  not really much of a curve I'm afraid.

Saturday found us window shopping down on Kärtner Straße,  which is basically a huge walkway in the centre of town with nothing but shops.

This is pretty much my idea of torture.  I was rather envious of one shopper I sat down next to,  since she had figured out a way to tolerate the situation.
I think it takes a certain amount of practise to hold onto one's cane and catch forty winks at the same time.

In spite of the airlines not doing a whole lot of business over the weekend,  it seemed Stephansplatz was pretty much packed. 
That is to say, at least on my "crowd-o-meter" it was registering somewhere between "moderately annoyed"  and "get the hell outta here".    If it ever gets to "head will explode",  I'm afraid I'm done for.

Speaking of that whole "pain in the Ash"  situation,  I had mentioned that we'd be going to a concert on Saturday night.  Turns out that the reason we lucked into these tickets was that some customers were supposed to come down from Denmark and well,  we all know how those stories go.
I've since heard a couple other strange tales of travel exploits,  like waiting in line for three hours to get a train ticket,  or one individual who was stuck in Prague,  and rented a car and drove back to England.   Wowsers!   I have to find out more about that particular story,  since when we were in England and I drove out to their place in Shropshire,  this person said how she would never ever consider driving "on the continent".   It's possible there may have been others who were a part of that business trip,  and somebody got roped into driving.  I'm sure I'll hear other snippets in due time.

I'm just as happy we get to stay put.

In other good news,  my travelling companion has told me she now doesn't need to head to Switzerland later in the week,  since they've decided to have their meeting (the "Ops review") on the phone.  It doesn't quite have the effectiveness of being able to look someone in the eye,  but they decided that it would simply have to do.

As far as the little concert was concerned,  it was just fine.  My travelling companion quite enjoyed herself.  Personally I could have done without the "dancing" part,  but that's just me.  Why anyone would think it's OK for some guy to get trussed up in a pair of tights and prance around on stage is simply beyond me.    Thankfully that was only part of the show,  and the rest was a mixed bag of some of the catchy tunes from the seventeen hundreds.   I'd refer you to the pop charts from say 1791,  but I wouldn't want you to end up like that nice lady in the picture above.
Hey,  the tickets were free,  so I need to shut-up already.

Plus,  the venue wasn't too shabby...

Oh,  and what did I say about schnitzel futures?   I'm pretty sure this guy.....

...was sent out with the big sign on his back trying to plug all those frozen schnitzels.

Makes sense,  right? 

Actually,  it's more like I just had to stick that picture in there,  since I just thought it was so goofy.  I'm not really up on the latest marketing techniques,  but  do you think they actually convince people to go to this restaurant?

Sure looks like it would be a real classy joint.

On Sunday.....we didn't go to Church!   What you say?'s true.

In light of the fact that Vienna was hosting a Marathon on Sunday,  we formed a committee and decided to give the Church outing a pass.
Turns out the runners were going right by here on Mariahilfer Straße,  so that was kinda neat.  The numbers around this event are kind of mind boggling,  since there were something like 32,000 people running,  and that's in spite of a couple thousand not being able to attend because the Volcano effect.
I have to say,  first to of all,  to look down Mariahilfer across the Gürtel and see this huge swarm of runners is impressive enough,  but then there's also the fact that there was every size,  shape and age of human specimen.   We saw one guy,   I swear he was in his nineties.....and he wasn't that far behind!   And no,  I didn't get a picture.   Turns out batteries need to be charged up once in a while.

Hey,  it happens.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Better put that Schnitzel back in the freezer there Hans.

If you somehow thought making large purchases in Schnitzel futures was a good retirement plan,  you may wish to rethink that investment strategy.
I think sales are going to take a slight dip this weekend.

As I look towards the West,  where I would normally see a line of aircraft streaming into Vienna airport,  the sky this afternoon is strangely empty.

This (below) is due west....

Nope.  No planes.

It does seem a tad hazy too,  doesn't it?

Apparently Austrian airspace has now been closed until further notice,  so no last minute spur of the moment flights to Paris or any such thing.
Oh well,  we'll just have to stay put.

Now,  in much the same way that certain economic events or acts of Mother Nature can cause grief to those who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time,   there are also examples where others may find themselves in for a wind fall.

Case in point,  the phone rang this morning (scaring the crap out of me as usual)  and it was my lovely travelling companion,  asking how I felt about going to dinner and a concert at the Schönbrunn Castle tomorrow night.

I said...well,  I'd think about it.

Pft!  Are you kidding?   Good tickets to this venue are almost always sold out, so my ticket buying strategy for this particular event was more or less in limbo,  since I just figured we'd have to order tickets months in advance and then hope the schedule was such that we'd actually get to go.

Until now.

See,  it turns out that,  since the tourists won't be flocking to Vienna this weekend by air,  there were now a few more tickets available.
Should I feel bad that we're able to see a really fabulous performance as a result of the misfortune of others?

Once again,  let me think about that.


Do we feel bad about the bloke who looses a wad at the roulette table in Vegas?   No...he too could have stayed home.
I think we'll leave that whole philosophical discussion alone,  but I think you get my point.
We're not buying human hides that have been harvested from some near extinct pygmy tribe in South America here.
However,  if I do see any pygmy purses,  I'll be sure and let you know.


Meanwhile in other news,  I once again bolstered my courage and pedalled my hind end down to the Naschmarkt for a couple slabs of salmon.   Gotta have that Omega three!   Besides,  it makes for a dead simple meal which,  since I'm probably the laziest cook you'd ever meet,  is really the hidden agenda.
I threw on a small saddle bag this time around,  which just happened to be the padded type,  the sole purpose of which is to transport one's lunch to work.
Wonder where that could have come from?
So just to keep the fish from cooking ahead of time,  I took along one of those nifty little frozen ice pack jobbies.  Then I don't feel like I have to race home.

I also made sure I took the small camera,  since there's bound to be a couple sights along the way.

I think I first saw this structure a few weeks back,  and what I didn't realise at the time was that I was looking at yet another piece of Viennese history.  Somewhere in my internet wanderings,  I had read about these "Flaktürme"  (singular is Flakturm,  or Flak Tower)  that had been build by the Nazis shortly after they had come to Vienna for a visit.   Apparently it was a handy place from which you could shoot at Allied aircraft.

There are three of them in the city.  The one above was in Berlin.

Now here's the thing.
 There had been some talk of trying to knock these suckers down back in the seventies,  since I guess everyone wanted to sort of turn a blind eye to what went on in the thirties and forties....but the damned things were built to withstand any kind of bomb or other incendiary device so it didn't take long to realise that they couldn't simply be "knocked down".   Plus,  there was another camp that felt they could be put to some use,  all the while serving as a rather glaring reminder of the past.

This one has been turned into an aquarium.

Must be all that concrete.

I also simply could not resist taking a picture of this one particular crane on Kirchengaße,  since I watched this one go up a few Sundays ago.
They do seem to end up in the darndest places.

I typically don't walk down Mariahilfer quite this far,  but the bike makes quick work of it.  Once again of course,  coming back up the hill from the Naschmarkt makes for a couple sweaty moments.
On the bright side,  I've discovered that since I've been trying to climb the stairs at least three or four times a day,  it's no longer the near death experience of a couple months ago.

I'm not quite to the stage where I can run up the stairs,  but time will tell.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

That can't be good.

For anyone with travel plans to Europe over the next week or so,  this doesn't look good.  Apparently flights in and out of Reykjavik are fine,  since all the ash spewing out of the volcano in Iceland is blowing towards Europe.
Are we going to have another summer of '92?
Cripes,  I hope not.
If you recall,  it was in 91 and 92 that mount Pinatubo erupted,  dropping summertime temperatures around the globe by (they say) a half a degree.

Sure felt colder than that.

  I just remember it rained ever single weekend that summer but one.  Funny how those things stick with you.
Whereas I first saw this on MSN,  it had actually come from the CBC.   Not sure why it is I have to see some idiotic Winney the Pooh ad ever single time I watch one of the brief videos on MSN.
I'm NOT going to the new Walt Disney Winney the Pooh movie,  so just stop already!

What I hadn't mentioned yesterday was that my travelling companion had spent the day in Frankfurt,  first at a pow-wow for the group,  and then for a brief trip through the trade show where the company that cannot be named was putting out a few of their latest high tech gadgets.
Thankfully she's back home here in Wienerland for a while longer,  so there are no immediate travel concerns.  It was a day trip to Frankfurt,  so that meant we rolled out of bed well before 4:30 for what I think was a 7:30 flight (memory's dim)  off to warm and sunny Frankfurt,  only to return last night after 9:30 to Vienna,  where it's been raining pretty steadily for as long as I can remember.

Well,  since last Saturday anyway.

This morning though,  there was a two hour window of near sunshine,  which gave me the chance to once again head out in search of what I think is one of the best deals around.
At some point,  maybe it was on the weekend,  I discovered that there was a season's pass to be had for eight of the venues here in Wienerland.  First of all,  we have the "Kunsthistorische Museum",  which translates to the "Museum of Art History",  which was started by the Habsburgs to house all the stuff they had collected over the hundreds of years they ruled over the Austrian Empire.   It's actually a little more complicated than that, but trust me,  you don't want me to go into it.
Clink on the link if you want.
Read all about the Habsburgs.
Fill your boots.

Now,  along with the Kunsthistorische Museum,  there are seven other venues you can get into with this one pass.

Such a deal!!   And for €29,   this thing is good for a year!

I was also quite pleased to see that these things were available at one of the many Bawag bank branches not far from our front door.

Or so I thought.

On Tuesday I naively figured I could just waltz into the branch out here on Mariahilfer and pick up two passes.  Oh no,  sold out.

Fine.   No biggie,  since there's another branch on Neubaugasse.   There's a nice bakery there that I go to almost every day,  so off I go.

Sold out.   Went to the bakery anyway,  so it wasn't a complete waste.

Beginning to think the whole concept is starting to look less than promising.

So this morning,  I figured I'd suck it up and try calling somebody to find out about these flippin' passes.   Ever tried calling your bank?   (I called the museum,  they don't answer)  You don't really end up calling a particular branch,  unless you've managed to wrestle a business card from someone who works there,  and then pray to God they haven't been transferred by the time you actually need to talk to them.
No,  if you decide to go down that road,  you end up speaking to someone in some central location or worse,  a call centre.  Here in Austria,  this may very well have been someone actually in Vienna.   We're not sure,  but Vienna is the capital,  and this woman spoke German.  Not the goofy Austrian dialect,  which I can almost  understand,  but Perfecktes Hochdeutsch.

Unlike some Canadian banks that we won't continue to rant on about here,  these folks can't quite outsource their call centres to some slum in Bombay.  (it was'll always be Bombay as far as I'm concerned.   They didn't start calling it "Mumbai Furniture" )

 See,  they don't speak a whole lot of German in Bombay,  or New Delhi....or New Brunswick for that matter.

Anyway,  the very nice lady on the phone said she'd have someone call me.
I don't really know my number,  so I had to scramble for a few seconds there while I located my cell phone into which I had thankfully programmed our home phone number ahead of time!   Yikes!

Once again,  I wouldn't have taken that bet,  but much to my surprise,  about 20 minutes later,  the phone rang,  and it was a bank lady!   Holy moly!
I darned near peed.

Here's another little snippet for you:

In Austria,  it's considered bad form (well,  downright rude actually)  to answer the phone by just saying "hello".  Don't ask me why,  'cause the Austrians are plenty rude without ever having to get on the phone.   No,   you say "hier..."and then your last name.   I don't normally do this since I figure it's nobody's bloody business who lives here,  but in this case I made sure I answered the phone properly.   Never hurts.


My guess would be at this point you're thinking that I'm in possession of two of these coveted passes.

Well....not.... quite.

What I have is a couple really fancy little pieces of paper in cutesy little envelopes that I can now exchange for my two passes when we go to the Museum for the first time.


Small steps Bob.  Small steps.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Lovely name,  wot?   If it really was her name.  I suspect not.

I usually expect the phone to ring at some point in time later in the day/evening,  with the voice of my travelling companion on the other end letting me know when she'll be home.  It's a little routine we have.
Last night was going to be a late night,  so when the call didn't come until around nine or so, that came as no surprise.  She needed some guidance getting to one of the hotels out on the Gürtel,  to drop off one of the folks who reports to her.   They had another one of their big pow-wows with controllers and their like coming in from Prague,  Serbia,  The Netherlands.  That kind of thing.
There had been twenty of them out to dinner on Monday night,  so a sizeable group.

So when the phone rang a second time, I just figured she had made a wrong turn somewhere along the way and that it would be up to me to magically sort it out for her.
Seems far fetched I know,  but this has actually happened.  Thankfully the car we presently have, has a proper navigation system,  and there are a number of addresses that we've plugged into the thing....including how to get home.
To be fair,  she weaned herself off of her GPS dependency a couple months back.

Best I mention that,  or I'm in trouble.

This time though, the voice on the other end was that of my daughter in Canada,  calling me to give me the latest news on the "Visa Card saga".   First of all,  last spring some time,  it was oh so important that we get new Visa cards,  since they were all going to have the chip  system.  So fine,  when we were home shortly thereafter,  we dutifully picked up our new cards,  and the expiry on mine at least (I guess they're both the same)  is something like 07/12.

That's July, twenty twelve,  right?

So then why oh why would they send another card to the house about a month ago,  with a dire warning that I had to activate it right away!

Such drama.

Well,  after some investigation (and frustration) on the part of my daughter,  it turns out that due to a somewhat large purchase right around Christmas time,  (like,  who doesn't have those around Christmas??)   they thought there was some sort of security risk,  and had sent me a new card.
Now,  I'd almost believe that to be true,  but this new card didn't get to the house until a month ago,  and that would have been what?  March?   Let me see.   December,  January,  Feb....   Wow,  takes two and a half months to come up with a new card?  Boy,  they're right on the ball!

Speaking of "sharp"...
I know companies that make hand forged woodworking tools in less time.

Meanwhile my daughter had been back and forth with the very smart bank people down the street from our house,  and there was some talk of sending the card here to Wienerland,   along with a bunch of other crap that amounts to so much fresh air.

Then yesterday,  just as a bit of icing on the cake,  there was a "courtesy" call from a call centre from some other very smart bank people,  with (I think)  some questions about this new card.  Only thing is,  they wouldn't answer any of the questions my daughter had for them,  since she's "not authorised".

And here we have the reason that I had to call "Munzungu".

Let me have you understand this.  If you haul one of your credit cards out from your preferred hiding place and have a gander at the back,  you'll no doubt see that there's a toll free number to call for various reasons.  Of course,  if your card is stolen,  I'm not sure what the hell good that number is going to do for you,  but when you finally get through to them on the phone,  that's one of the many choices you need to try and figure out.
Well from Austria,  those toll free numbers aren't worth a pinch of coon poop.
 It's a direct number.  Supposedly I should be able to call "collect",  but I don't see how that works.
So already by the time I get through to "Munzungu",  I'm starting to get just a tad impatient,  especially since it would seem that English is not her first language.    It doesn't help that she's probably in India,  or New Brunswick or some other God forsaken place.
Mind you,  it's entirely possible that she was sitting in the Ivory tower of the very smart banking people in Toronto,  but I wouldn't take that bet.

So...after a great deal of back and forth,  and me having her repeat a couple things,  and then having her put me on hold! we finally established that YES,  YES your card is fine.
Personally,  I always thought it was,  but there was all this doom and gloom,  and with having to buy some airline tickets in the very,  very near future,  this particular card is kind of important.
I have a couple other rarely used credit cards,  with lower credit limits,  that I keep expressly for internet use, if the occasion is such that there should be any doubt at all about the security of the transaction.  I've never had any issues,  but if I'm buying a power tool from Calgary for 800 bucks (say),  and the card's credit limit is only a thousand,  I sleep better at night.

I wouldn't want you to think that I'm the kind of person who would have any doubts when it comes to the reasurances of someone named "Munzungu",  but I went out this afternoon and bought a 10 cd set from Hintermeyer for €9,99 and,   low and behold,  the card does in fact, work just fine.

Some day I get around to telling the story of my very last conversation with a "representative"  of American Express named...

wait for it...


Maybe that's not the way it was spelled,  but that's the way it sounded.

I didn't ask.

I didn't care.

For your further entertainment,  I present window cleaning on Mariahilfer Strasse.


Monday, April 12, 2010

The weekend report.

Due to my very heroic outing on the bike on Friday,  we were spared having to head to the Naschmarkt on Saturday.
Typically though,  I forget one or two items and have to make a second trip to the grocery store on the Saturday anyway,  but at least it's just a short walk down the street.   It would be heaps simpler if there was the slightest chance of finding a store open on a Sunday.  I read somewhere that the closest one is in Hungary.  I'm not sure how accurate that is,  but it's probably not that much of a stretch.
I know there will be some moaning and groaning,  but there will be no pictures for this entry.
Sorry,  had a brief chance there on Sunday morning,  but the moment passed.
We decided this week to go to the Anna Kirche, which is on a little side street off of Kärtner Straße.
Oh and by the way,  if you haven't learnt how to read all these funny letters I put in by now,  then that's just too bad.  If I have to look up the html code for double "s"  (this symbol, ß)  then you can bloody well figure out how to say it....
Hey,  how tricky would it be if we were living in Moscow?
Then I could really mess with you.

боже мой!

You can go to that link and read all about Anna Kirche,  but what it won't tell you there, is that this past Sunday's service was in Latin.....with a smidgen of German thrown in for good measure.
This is actually a good thing,  since with the Latin Program,  you get well....a program.  Now,  I never took Latin,  but I can follow along,  and my travelling companion has had the thrill of attending Latin masses as a kid,  so we never got too lost at any given time.
So think of it.   There's reading,  singing,  standing up, sitting down.   All that physical and mental exercise for a measly €5,00 in the collections basket.
There were no candles to light,  so I dodged that bullet.
(Hey,  that can add up to an extra €3,00!!)

Speaking of which,  I've noticed that a lot of these church going types are flippin' cheap!  Even at the concert last week there were people timidly sliding coins into the collection.

  I swear one of these fine Sunday mornings I'm just going to bellow out,  "C'mon you tight wads!  Loosen the purse strings!"   Of course I guess I'd have to say it in German,  and maybe I'd want to be sitting close to the back....and maybe by myself....'cause if I wasn't,  I soon would be.

I might need to reconsider that plan.


Not sure if you've checked the weather today for Vienna,  but if I could use the "Caretaking vernacular",  it's been the shits.
It has been either raining,  or raining hard all flippin' day long.   That wouldn't be too much of a consideration except that I was sent on a mission to try and get tickets to see the Wiener Sänger Knaben, since somebody was trying to order tickets online,  but apparently they needed to send them to our "hotel room".
Um...hello?   We live here?

So I just figured I'd show up at the address they gave on the website,  since they included office hours and everything,  cash in hand,  and buy two tickets.
Didn't happen.   Thankfully I wore my sou'wester,   so I managed to stay dry while I was outside their door hanging on the buzzer.


Decided I didn't want to do that any more,  so to save the trip from being a total waste,  I figured I'd get back on the subway and head over to the train station to check out the connection to the airport.  This particular station has been under construction for a couple years now,  so it's a bit of a disaster,  which is why I wanted to do a little re con ahead of time.  We now have our tickets for the S7 train to the airport,  which means walking 30 meters from our front door,  getting on the subway and then switching to the train at the Landstraße Wien/Mitte station.

All this for a mere €7,20.

This is a bit of a difference from taking the CAT,  which is the City Airport Train,  which leaves from the same station,  but takes a different track,  saves you fifteen minutes,  but cost an additional €12,  more or less. you also have to pay for the subway,  whereas with the other train it's all included....
Turns out the CAT (and I hear it's quite nice)  was a scheme that was thought up by the folks at the airport,  so they tend to push it a lot.   They don't really want the tourists to know about the regular train....
(can I say "Bastards" again?)

Thanks to some knowledgeable folks over on the Vienna Expats forum,  I was able to get the straight goods.
Overall it does mean we have to walk just a tad more than if we were taking a cab all the way there, since train stations tend to be kinda huge,  but I'm sure it'll smell heaps better.

I will mention further details as to the reason for the airport trip in due time.



Friday, April 9, 2010

So Confusing.

Apartment living + Biking = My arm kinda hurts.

Let me start off by saying that last night was "pasta night" and yes,  my hidden agenda was that I wanted to try out my new tomato paste in a tube discovery.
Hey,  maybe all the seasoned cooks out there think this is pretty lame,  but it's new to me, so shut up.

And besides,  pasta is dead simple.   It's a chance to use up a few veggies that are looking a little long in the tooth,  and really more or less cooks itself.  Helps to stir once in a while,  but you know what I mean.

Trouble is,  it's not really the best choice for those watching their blood sugar.  Too many carbs.  I so wish I didn't have to know any of this stuff,  but such is life after the half century mark.
So that means,  tonight's meal really should be  fish.   Right?

Trouble is,  getting fish here isn't as easy peasy as it was in Delden,   but I did it!  I rode my bike down to the Naschmarkt.  We had quite successfully bought salmon there before,  but that was on a Saturday,  and we took the car.  That can also be a challenge,  since parking is then the consideration. 
Needless to say,  the Naschmarkt on a Friday morning is a mere shadow of the madness that one encounters on a Saturday.

I have photo evidence.

Look,  you can actually see the ground!

There are a couple major considerations with this sort of junket.   First of all,  the bikes are in the basement.   They do not fit in the elevator.  I tried it.   I can get the bike in,  standing on its hind wheel,  but that's pretty much it.   No room for me.
So that means lugging new and shiney up a flight of stairs.  Hence the complaining arm.  That sucker is heavy!  She ain't no road racer,  that's for sure.

This wasn't even the slightest consideration when we were in the Netherlands,  since everything was pretty much "on the flat"  so to speak,  and I never really noticed just how flippin' awkward it was to carry the thing.

I'll manage.

Speaking of which,  it so happens that we're situated on a bit of a hill here,  so leaving is easy.  Fabulous,  really.   The brakes on the bike got a strenuous workout.  Coming back is a bit of a different story.
I probably could have stopped to rest even more had I not had the nagging thought in the back of my mind that I didn't really want the fish to start to cook in the black bike bag....
I'll put it on the BBQ later thanks.

Now,  here's the confusing part.   Once in a while there is such a thing as a proper "bike path".   Sometimes it's a dedicated lane way that precludes any other forms of traffic.   Often a separate lane way is painted on a one way street going in opposition to the traffic.  At one point however,  I was tooling merrily along on a dedicated bike path,  when suddenly I was met with a big sign that said "Ende".   That was it.   No clue where to go.

See,  having lived in the Netherlands where all the traffic is very orderly,  I now have some trepidation when it comes to simply riding willy-nilly just any place I'd like.   They even had "one way" bike lanes for heaven's sake!   Plus,  my travelling companion and I actually witnessed  a police car chase down a bike rider on a bike path to nab him for some sort of infraction.

That's when you know they're serious.

After today's brief outing though I now fully understand why the bike riders here do tend to ride willy-nilly,  and that's because the traffic management is well,  pretty much a joke.
There was some hair brained scheme here back in 1995 that they wanted to increase bike rider ship from 3% to 6%.

Somehow I don't think they managed.


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Little jobs.

Please don't read that as "little jobbies",  since we won't be revisiting women's fashion.
Not this time anyway.

No,  this is more of a practical nature.

When we moved in back in November,  I placed a number of items in the upstairs storage.  It comes equipped with a light and electrical outlet,  so I'm all set.
Unfortunately I can touch either wall will my outstretched arms,  so it's not like I can rip a sheet of cherry plywood or anything,  but I could run a blender I suppose.

Hm...margaritas come to mind.

Where was I?


The ever so slightly annoying problem was,  when the very clever builders installed the door,  they forgot to install any sort of device to keep the rain from simply coming in at the top,  and although I'm not going to be here to see it happen,  in time the threshold (see below) simpy going to rot.

(they used OSB* fer heaven's sake!)

So what I needed is something called "flashing".
Trust me,  if you do a google search on "flashing",  you'll get no end of interesting results.   I'm talking about this stuff..
(best I just show a picture)

Now I have to say, I didn't just waltz into a building supply depot and pick up some flashing.  Oh no.
I still haven't a clue what it's called in German,  and I wasn't going to even try to explain that one.
Turns out,  as is the case with most of these little challenges,  I discovered something quite by accident one day when I wasn't even looking.  Why is that??

I guess it's a male version of shopping or something.   I'll happily go into a building supply store and just wander around.  You just never know what you'll see.  Sometimes it's something you need.
That's my story,  anyway.

As it happens this was only an "L" shaped piece of plastic that is conveniently long enough to have a few centimetres overhang on each end.  Not truly flashing in the galvanised metal sense,  but it'll work just fine.

Stylish,  yes?

All I had to do was wait for the weather to get warm enough to run a beat of caulk along the top edge.

And no,  I don't own a ladder in this country.  Have too many at home already,  and I refuse to buy another.

And.....we're done.

Just watch,  I'll be getting "hits" from the perves.
...and I don't mean by using the term "caulk" either....

Keep it between the ditches.

*Oriented Strand Board,  formally known as Aspenite.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Good, The Bad, and The Tomato Paste

There are actually many good things about living in Europe,  and perhaps Vienna in particular.
I say "perhaps",  since I'll never be a true city boy,  but that's OK,  this too shall pass.

Sunday's outing comes to mind.

Think about it,  the Choir from the University of Vienna (one of the oldest in the world,  going back to 1365 ) along with a gaggle of musicians playing music written by a couple of the most clever dudes to ever put quill to manuscript.

And all we had to do was show up.

And they say that one of them,  the little guy
who lived here in Vienna,  would typically have the music in his head,  and "composing" it,  was mostly a matter of simply writing it down. 
...mind boggling...

€5,00 in the collections basket,  and another voluntary €10,00 on the way out the door by way of appreciation...

Meanwhile,  actual concert tickets are as rare as hen's teeth.

But I digress...

Let's slide on down to some more basic amenities,  shall we?

There's hardly a week that goes by when beer isn't on sale.
Ah yes,  it's come to this.  The true measure of a man's willingness to look favourably on the European Lifestyle.

A few weeks back,  it was Ottakring.

This time around,  it's Gösser which,  if I were to buy 24,  was at an astounding €,54 each.
(that's around 80 cents CDN kids....and as it turns out,   80 cents American too....sorry there Yanks)

How can you NOT buy 24 at that price?
Now,  I have made the mistake of buying beer in bottles but really,  it was at some discount type store somewhere in Prague,  and it broke my heart to just recently take a six pack of empties to the recycling bin.

This,  unfortunately was the last one.....

Not quite worth it to drive back to the Czech Republic to take back six empties I'm afraid.

Now let's briefly talk about the "bad",  shall we?

A while back,  I think it was when we were living in the Netherlands,  I saw a brief piece on the Tube about this particular type of Water Closet that the Germans where all keen on.
Little did I know,  that the Austrians were of a like mind,  and that we would be blessed with a couple of these abominations when we moved here to Wienerland.

Now,  in case at some time in the future that link fails to produce results,  let me just snip a short quote from this rather lengthy description:

And I quote:

German toilets are quite extraordinary. Other European toilets - well, the ones that aren't merely holes in the floor - work much like their North American cousins. They are shaped a little differently, but the basic principle is the same: the excrement either lands directly in the water or it slides down a steep slope into the water, before being flushed away. Simple, effective and clean. See?

"Normal" toilet
Not so the German toilet. The excrement lands on a bone-dry horizontal shelf, mere inches beneath one's posterior. Repeated flushings are required to slide the ordure off the shelf into a small water-filled hole, from which it hopefully disappears. See?

(with credit to Scot Anderson for that).

Turns out much has been written on the subject.

Here's the thing,  the exhaust fan is your friend.   Really,  I could leave it at that.
I mean,  I made sure that we shipped a couple toilet brushes from the Netherlands,  so that we'd be prepared since,  one needs to clean the damned toilet every single time there's any hint of "the big one".
It doesn't even need to be "the big one".
It's going to lie there,  mocking you in a naked,  stinking "shittin' in the woods"  kind of way.

If I didn't know in the back of my mind that we'd be blowing  on out of here at some point in the future,  I'd seriously consider shipping over a couple proper "plopping"  toilets.

Well,  actually I could get them from the Netherlands.  We didn't have this problem there.

Now for the Tomato Paste.

Ever open one of those small tins of tomato paste,  but you don't need to use the whole thing?   Then you try putting it in the fridge,  where it gets forgotten and starts to become some sort of twisted science project?

The answer?  Simple.  Tomato Paste in a tube!


See?  Stupid little can on the left,  resealable tube on the right.   What more can I say?

I think tomorrow night just might have to be pasta night,  so I can try it out.

On edit,  I've been informed that we DO have tubes of the stuff in Canada.  I guess I've just never seen it,  as I rarely am called upon to do the grocery shopping over yonder.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Easter Weekend.

Hope everyone had a fine weekend.

Good Friday here is pretty much an ordinary Friday,  so the good news for me was that I didn't spend the day wondering if I'd make it through the day on no food,  but it also meant my travelling companion was working up in Schrems trying to sort out month end.
Now,  you may remember that on the previous Friday I had had the winter tires taken off and the summer rubber put on?
Well....seems it snowed Thursday night in Schrems.  There was a phone call. 
"Just wanted to let you know it's snowing!"


There was some nervous laughter on my end.

Fortunately it was all gone by the next day and the drive home was uneventful.   Actually, it seems there was gobs of opposing traffic heading north,  but hardly anyone on the road coming the other way.  So if they go "north" for the weekend,  don't they just end up in another country?  I'm just saying.

Saturday we made a quick trip to the Naschmarkt again to pick up a couple pieces of salmon,  along with a couple other specialities that are not to be found in the regular stores.  This is never an easy outing, but we managed to wade through the crowds,  get our stuff and emerge at the other end.  It's basically one long skinny row of vendors,  so turning around and coming back through the crowd is really just unnecessary punishment.
At least it is for me.  Turns out travelling companion "loves"  the crowds.   Methink she sits in her office by herself way too much.

At some point in time we usually look around on the net for a Church service,  and Saturday was no exception. 
There was some mention of something to do with Mozart at the Jesuit Church ?

That got my attention.

  "We're going there".  "What time?"

Now, for those of you with score cards,  the program was Mozart's Coronation Mass 
Requiem,  and the Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah.

This is sort of an Easter "triple header",  if I could put it into baseball parlance.

From the outside of the church,   you would never know what lies beyond,  since the inside is absolutely breath taking.
I realise I'm running out of superlatives when it comes to some of these buildings,  and I'm sorry.  

If you go to that first link,  there are a couple more photos online.   We were there for the service,  so picture taking was kinda tough.
I really and truly wanted to get there by about 10:00 for the 11:00 a.m.  service,  and we did manage to get there by about 10:25,  but the place was already mobbed.   There were chairs available in one of the back rooms.

We were kinda stuck off to the side.....

I wish I had a better example of the music,  since it's pretty hard to convey just what an extraordinary experience this is.
I did manage do find something on Youtube,  and you're welcome to follow along.

This is the "Kyrie"  from the Coronation Mass:

I'm afraid I'm going to have to drag you kicking and screaming along for another piece,  which is one of the first parts of the Requiem.
(there are actually 14 sections....we heard just the one)

After communion,  people started to leave,  even though they still hadn't done Handel's Messiah.
This gave me a chance to take out the small camera.

Fortunately the Hallelujah chorus is just under four minutes long,  since my arms were starting to get a little shaky towards the end there.   Not sure if you can tell.

Our original intention was to bolster our courage and head out on the bikes on Monday,  but the weather here was pretty lousy,  with single digit temperatures,  rain and wind.

Hopefully spring decides to return.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

An April Fools joke of sorts.

No,  we don't go playing tricks on each other.

I've noticed a couple lame attempts on the internet, and that's only due to it being the place where I seem to get the most of my news.  At least nobody has bothered to send me any lame-assed emails up to this point.
The day's not over though.....and it's still morning in North America.

So where am I going with this?

Well,  for the last few weeks I guess it's been,  I've been accompanying my travelling companion in the mornings to the parking garage and sending her on her way.   First of all,  the excercise ain't gonna kill me and secondly, she's been using this one computer bag lately that I swear would give Paul Bunyan a hernia.

I've already had my share of hernias in my life and I'm all good.  They've been fixed.
Thanks for your concern.
Just the same,  it doesn't exactly do wonders for my neck and shoulders,  but I'm sure I'll be fine.

Since it's "month end",  she had decided to head up to Schrems and help out the mutts in the trenches,  so this mornings luggage was of the extra cumbersome variety. 
That would not be such a huge deal,  except that we couldn't get into the flippin' parking garage.


See,  since we are "Dauerparker"  (we have a long term parking arrangement),  we have a plastic card with a magnetic strip,  not unlike a credit card, that we use to get in and out of the garage.  It usually resides in a little pouch with the car key,  along with a couple gas cards.  Normally I simply leave the card in the pouch,  hold it up in front of the sensor and the door opens.
Nothing happened.   Turned it over.   Nothing happened.
Opened the pouch.
Well,  there we go! There's only a couple gas cards.  Great for getting fuel,  not very helpful at the moment.

We just sort of looked at each other like a couple stunned bunnies.
(note Easter theme)

Now I have to say,  this is something that I've come really close  to doing myself,  since I do tend to zone out once in a while.  I've had to shuffle back to the car on more than one occasion and fetch the card,  so as to not end up being locked out.
Of course,  there's also that moment of doubt just after I've opened the door,  but not before letting it slam shut behind me,  when I feverishly open the pouch to double check that I do in fact have the card.

Weekends are a time of greater concern,  since the place is locked up solid all day Sunday.  Kinda puts a damper on that "Sunday Drive"  program when you can't get to the car.

Fortunately it was after 7:00 a.m.,  since the big metal doors are closed over night as well.
What that means however is,  we had to slink our way down the ramp that comes out way over on the other side.

Does it look like it's a bit of a hike? 

 There's no camera trickery here.  We're not just "underground".   No-no....this is a level below that. 

No biggie,  but a whole lot of slinking. 

A hand brake on luggage wouldn't hurt either.