Archive for the ‘Travel’ category

The least German sounding place in Austria

May 6, 2009

I may have jumped the gun in my last entry.

It occurred to me that tomorrow I will be meeting up with a friend in the afternoon and I’m not entirely sure what I’ll be doing and then of course the parents and the sister are coming on Friday, but I shall discuss that tomorrow.

Today, however, I did follow through with my plan.  I went to the Schloss Belvedere palace to film my latest video and, for the most part, I’m happy with it.  I’m more satisfied with the content than I have been in previous videos; I spoke about the architecture of Vienna compared with Seville, a subject I find fascinating and would like to know more about.  It was appropriate that I went to Schloss Belvedere to film as the last time I was there I was walking with an Australian girl who was visiting Vienna for a few days and gave me a basic course on baroque architecture.

Regrettably, I didn’t get much further past Schloss Belvedere.  My days rarely begin before noon at the moment, which will probably be the subject of my next resolution.  I didn’t leave the flat until two today and I had errands to run before I could go sightseeing.  I had to go swimming for one thing.

It’s been a while since I’ve done proper exercise, I didn’t renew my gym membership this month – it’s bloody expensive – and I always get to the pool too late to do anything of value.  Today, though, I knew the opening times and went early and it was a lot of  fun.   Swimming and cycling are sports which don’t feel like work to me because I’ve been doing them so long and because I can go out and do them on my own steam, wherever and whenever I want.  Rowing is like that as well, to an extent, but usually you’re limited to club training times and any other time you need to supplement rowing for a session on the rowing machine.

Going to the swimming pool also meant that I had a prime opportunity to – read “no excuse not to” – go the Westbahnhof, as it’s on the same U-bahn line.  I’ve been meaning – read “forgetting” – to go for a while now, as I’m looking into getting a train back to the UK when I finally leave Vienna in June.  After dealing with the world’s most apathetic bastard of a ticket salesman who said that the ticket would be around four or five hundred Euro, I was informed by travel information that I could probably get there for about €160 in around 15 hours, which doesn’t sound too bad, though I’ll have to run it by my parents as they’re funding the travel.  I’m hoping that it’ll pass muster, I hate flying.  I’d happily take my time getting there and arrived relaxed rather than get there faster and be a bag of nerves and sleep deprivation, which is my usual response to flying.

Because of that surprising show of productivity, I didn’t arrive at the Belvedere until around half sis.  Admittedly, this gave me a couple of hours before it got dark and that would have been fine, had I not been recording my next vlog.  I don’t particularly hate vlogging outside, but having done my last vlog mostly indoors I was particularly raw to the many inconveniences of talking to a camera in a public place.

For a start, it’s embarrassing.  A friend of mine once saw me recording in Plaza Nueva (Seville), he said that I was “walking very slowly talking to [my] shoulder”, and that I basically looked insane.   As time’s gone by, I become less embarrassed by the idea of people seeing me, but I am always conscious that it looks weird and tend to wait for areas to be as clear as it’s possible for tourist spots to be – not very – before I start recording.  Then there’s environmental factors.  It started raining whilst I was recording, not heavily or anywhere near enough to require a coat or umbrella, but enough to cause me a bit of an inconvenience.  And I can’t forget that for every time I record something usable, there’s about two shots which are wrecked by a sudden gust of wind.

Overall, the average time it takes for me to film a video outdoors is about an hour and a half – 30 minutes indoors – which feels entirely too long to produce the raw footage for a sequence which might last 4 minutes at a push.

Over the course of the filming I walked from the Oberes Belvedere, where I had walked before, to the Unteres Belvedere, which I hadn’t actually realised existed.  It’s not quite as impressive as its big brother, but it’s still an attractive little palace and it has the nicer half of the gardens, which I spent a few minutes walking around as night fell and then had no idea where I was.  I simply walked onto the street past the lower palace, which leads to a different part of the city

It was quite a nice sensation, I wasn’t lost; it’s impossible to get lost in the centre of Vienna, you just need to walk far enough and you’ll come to a U-bahn station, but it gave me the opportunity to walk through the city at night sober and alone, so I was paying attention to the buildings.  Vienna in pretty during the day, but beautiful at night.  All the major buildings have footlights shining up wards and picking out architectural intricacies which aren’t as obvious in the day.  And there were a lot of buildings like that, I wonder how I’m supposed to decide what to photograph, I could easily fill entire albums with buildings from Vienna, though I would prefer to have seen it before the introduction of the neon and overhead tram lines which block so many views, which would otherwise be perfect.

When I started walking, I thought had been heading towards the Cathedral, but after about twenty minutes I think I must have found myself turned around, as I started walking down the quieter one way streets, but I struck lucky when I arrived at the next main road and ended up right next to the hotel my parents will be staying at this weekend and the nearest U-bahn not too far away.  It struck me as quite a convenient coincidence that I’d popped up there, but I didn’t become truly excited until I saw the Segway dealership right next door.

I’ve seen Segways before now and they always seemed to be a bit of a touristy gimmick – on fact, my mum wants to take a Segway tour while my family is here – but now I really want one.  They look like fun.  Do I have to learn to drive?  Can’t I just take all the money I’d spend on driving lessons, petrol, MOTs, repairs and invest it in a Segway?

We’ll see if I still feel the same way after this weekend…

It’s an interesting thing.  When I sat down to write this, I was concerned that I’d not done much today, but in reality it’s been a resounding success.

Here’s to the same again tomorrow.

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A little bit of resolve

May 5, 2009

I have decided to add “resolutions” to my list of categories.

Every couple of months, weeks, sometimes days, I come up with some new self improving decree, something that will make me better, stronger, faster and all that, then I pretty much invariably fail to carry them out. To this end, I feel I should start making them public – or at least as public as one can consider a blog with an average of less than one view per day.

My most recent resolution was to update this blog everyday, which I have managed about 70% of the time.  Unfortunately, in recent days, I’ve found that I’ve had very little to talk about.  I’ve spent the last few days in my room watching TV shows online, leaving my room just to go to class, the shops or the gym.  It has not been an exciting time.

And this frustrates me!

I am currently on my Erasmus year, currently entering the Twilight of my time abroad with only eight weeks left at the University of Vienna and I’m disappointed in myself that I’ve seen so very little of the city.

I’ve found with a few Erasmus students that they’ve not really seen many of the sights – even those that were here for the first semester as well – and it’s not apathy, so much as the idea that the city will still be there tomorrow, two months still seems like a long time, even if it will fly by.  I need to motivate myself to get out and see things.

My Vienna City Guide has 58 pages given over exclusively to sights.  Every evening I will pick a place and go there the next day, camera in hand and see what I see and I’ll write about it in the evening.  What will come from that?  I don’t know, but I saw so many interesting things in Seville because I spent a lot of time walking around the city and I want that to be the case here.

I’ve also decided that I’m going to start keeping a food diary again, using the book that I originally drafted my blog entries in.  I’d like to find some use for it other than a guilt trip with an attractive cover, but no inspiration has struck me as yet.  I’ll take it with me tomorrow and see if I can think of anything to put in it.

Finally, for the first time, I present:

Tomorrow’s destination: Landstrasse, which is technically cheating as I’ve been there before.  The Schloss Belvedere, one of the first places I visited in the city, is there and I want to film my first Viennese vlog outside it, but there are a few other things out there, which I didn’t see last time.

I’m English (me old fruity)

April 24, 2009

I did something yesterday that I’d never done before.  I sent someone a text saying “Happy St. George’s Day”.

I’ve never really paid much attention to St. George’s day; this is largely because I spend most of my time playing up the fact that I am, technically, Austrian – born halfway up a mountain in Austria is more than simply a quirky blog name, after all.  However, my usual “I was born there, therefore I am one of them” schtick falls down somewhat when I arrive in the country, unable to fully communicate and having spent 18 out of 21 years living in the UK.

So here I’m English.  And there’s nothing wrong with that, I’m proud to be English, England is where I was raised and I am part of it’s culture.  Being “Austrian” is simply something that makes me stand out from the masses a little bit.

The problem I’ve been finding in writing this, though, is finding aspects of English culture which are distinct from British culture.  I’m proud of British humour, which takes it’s cue from the whole nation’s absurd, self-depreciating, occasionally macabre tastes.  I’m proud of the amount we’ve contributed to literature and science, but authors from all over the country write comparable works and our scientific advances have come about from group research.  I’m proud of the BBC; I’ve met so many non-British people who use the BBC news service and watch it’s programmes, because it offers more balanced reporting and more varied programming, but that of course is the British Broadcasting Corporation.

But then, when I lie back and think of England (har har), I don’t think of those things, nor anything that could be learned from textbooks.  I think of my family and of somewhere I can go back to if all my worldly ambition falls through.  I think of sharing a pint and laughing with my mates down the pub.

On my walls there are two flags, a Spanish flag and an Austrian flag.  I’ve been asked before why I don’t also have a flag for England.  Put simply, Spain and Austria are places where I’ve lived; their cultures and languages fascinate me, but I will always be an outsider to some extent.  England is my home.  And that’s more than a flag can truly represent.

So while, after all I’ve seen, I can’t romanticise the English countryside as the most beautiful in the world, nor the weather the finest, nor the politicians the least corrupt.  I can say that for many years now since first hearing it sung by The Divine Comedy, I’ve always this poem going through my head – and occasionally my iPod – when I return to England from a holiday:

I travelled among unknown men
In lands beyond the sea;
Nor, England! did I know till then
What love I bore to thee.

‘Tis past, that melancholy dream!
Nor will I quit thy shore
A second time; for still I seem
To love thee more and more.

Among thy mountains did I feel
The joy of my desire;
And she I cherished turned her wheel
Beside an English fire.

Thy mornings showed, thy nights concealed,
The bowers where Lucy played;
And thine too is the last green field
That Lucy’s eyes surveyed.

William Wordsworth

And I mean it every time.

I don’t know the Irish for “Welcome Back”

April 20, 2009

The Irish are back. Most of my time spent in Vienna is spent with a group of three Irish girls and an Irish guy and they arrived back on Sunday. Jon rang me when they got back, inviting me out to lunch – which, incidentally was the first internal call I’d received since arriving here, causing me to jump out of my chair at how loud the phone’s ring was.

Despite having just flown in from Ireland, we went to an Irish pub for food, and whilst we were sitting, talking, it occured to me that this was the first time in a fortnight that I’d had any contact with my peers. For all that I love about it, everyone I know in Kitzbühel is at least ten years older or younger than me, which can leave you kind of alienated.

They also meant that I got out of the house more.  I thought that I would wander around the city during the last few days of my Easter holidays, but I felt no real compulsion to do anymore than I needed to.  I have a theory that, whereas in Seville, where I would go out to get personal space away from my roommate, in Vienna, where I have no roommate and infinite personal space, I want to spend time with people when I go out.  Of course, I could just motivate myself, but I want to justify my laziness.

‘Cause I’m leavin’ on a sleeper train, don’t know when I’ll be back again

April 15, 2009

I forgot to write about the dog with dreadlocks yesterday, being entirely too excited about my sledless sledding.

I was an entirely bizarre sight, made all the weirder for me having to explain it, as I wasn’t quick enough off the mark to get my camera out.  It was a live action version of Dougal, the dog from The Magic Roundabout, except that all the visible fur on it had been braided into hundreds of thin dreadlocks, in such a way that it must have cost the owners a great deal of money and yet served no other perposed except that it made the dog look ridiculous.

Despite having to wake up entirely too early, the journey back to Wien was very relaxing.  Aside from the first half hour of train to bus to train again switching, I spent most of the 6 hour journey on one train.  The biggest drama was that I had to walk along the train and back to find a seat, but when I found one I got really lucky.

The train had individual compartments, something I have never seen on a real train, only in movies, so I was a little overexcited by them.  When I’d finished walking along the train for the second time, I noticed that one of the compartments had its curtains drawn in such a way that it appeared to be closed off.  On closer inspection it appeared just to have a stiff door and was absolutely fine.  I sat myself down and none of the ticket inspectors questioned me about why I was there.

I am just a little bit of a poser

The compartments in Austrian trains are the height of luxury when it comes to rail travel, each contains six seats which recline inwards to form three beds.  I was able to spend most of the journey lying back, listening to podcasts and watching the higher bits of the world go past.  Lovely.

The one thing that did annoy me today didn’t happen until I got back to the station in Wien.  A guy came up and asked me for 2 Euro odd for his train.  Unfortunately for him, any money I had was deep at the bottom of my bags, so I told him I didn’t have any.  But he asked again, so I repeated, clearly, that I couldn’t help him.  And still he persisted, which really worked against his as – sleeping compartment or no – long journeys exhaust me and this guy was beginning to get on my tired nerves, making me even less inclined to part with my money.  Eventually, I had to turn out my pockets and, in rather clipped tones, tell him that I didn’t have any money.

I am aware of the inherent irony that by the time I finally got the guy to leave me alone I could have just as easily dug the money from out of my bag, but that he came to the station without extra cash is ridiculous, that he didn’t have a cash card to get some more money, doubly so.  I neither know if he got his train, nor care.

I should probably be mildly concerned that at the age of 20, I am becoming a grumpy old man.  But then, it will happen eventually, I may as well get the practice in now.

Not goodbye, auf wiedersehen

April 14, 2009

Today I managed to spend a lot of time rolling in snow, quite a feat considering there’s barely any left.  So little, in fact, that the cable cars have stopped running to the top of the Hahnenkamm; yesterday was the last day of the ski season.

Today I went with Waltraud, Heidi and the kids to the Schwarzsee, literally translated as “Black Sea”.  It reminded me of when I first watched The Sound of Music.  It was from this film that I learnt that Austria had a navy (in which Herr Von Trapp is a captain) and this has never made sense to me; why should a landlocked country possess the means to defend shores it doesn’t have?  At the time, I jokingly asked if the enemy ships were flown to lakes so that the opposing sides could shoot at each other, to this day I still wonder if that’s what happens.

There were people swimming in the Schwarzsee, which was strange.  I’ve swum in it before, but that was in summer, we’ve just left the ski season and the lake was iced over less than a week ago.  I was also slightly disappointed that there was a light wind causing ripples on the water.  When it’s still, the lake is a perfect mirror, and it’s hard to tell which is the real mountains and which are the refections in photographs.  I did learn that the lake and its mud is over 300,000 years old and very good for rheumatism – interesting stuff!

It was inevitable, really

It was also here that I had my first close encounter of the snowy kind for the day.  We went of the beaten track following a kind of woodland adventure playground for kids, part of the track was covered by snow, which was hard packed.  Except when I stood on it and wound up buried up to my ankle!

This was only a taste of what was to come, though, a taste of what I would subject myself to just a few hours later when I went to the Hahnenkammrennen track.  During the winter, the piste in one of the fastest, most dangerous race courses in the world.  But now the snow is mostly melted away, the last layers being just slush and ice.  This evening, I decided I had to climb it.

It wasn’t a spur of the moment thing.  There is a large hoarding of Kitzbühel’s symbol (a modern rendering of the coat of arms) and from my arrival, I’ve wanted a picture in front of it, but it was always too far away.  So this evening, it being my last night, I resolved to climb up to it.

The first part – getting across the kiddie slope between the road up the mountain and the actual course – was fairly easy, the little snow that was there was soft enough to give me grip, but hard enough that I wouldn’t go through.  Gradually, however, it became slippery slush and my shoes were quickly soaked.  I got to the main piste and just had to keep plowing on, heading for a grass patch just in front of the sign.  It was only a few hundred meters, but I was worried about slipping, I was worried that I wasn’t allowed to be up here and the Polizei might come after me, I was worried that my camera my not save the pictures properly, making this all for nothing.  I was loving every minute of it.

When I made it, I went snap happy.  Every angle, expression, gesture I could think of, I took a several pictures of each.  I felt I had earned every one and the right to make sure that I had at least on perfect picture in there.  I even filmed some video whilst I ewas up there, which I want to use later (I’m putting foresight into my vlogs, now I shall be unstoppable).

Of course, then I had to get down.  I wasn’t keen on walking; the snow was soft and slipping over would be a lot more hazardous whilst walking down than it had been going up.  I thought it was a shame that I didn’t have a sled… and a thought struck me.  The snow was soft, I was wearing sturdy jeans, it would probably happen anyway if I tried to walk.  I should slide down!

It took me maybe five minutes, during which my thought processes alternated between “this is stupid” and “this is genius”.  I resolved at stupid at a plateau, where I could cross to the main road and head into town and where I stood up and was able to crack the ice in my half-frozen jeans: it was an entirely stupid idea, but totally worth it.  I also found the eaiest way to the road was using a skiing/skating movement, so I have now (sort of) skied in Kitzbühel.

Whilst I was in town, I bought some gifts for the family.  I bought a bottle of Austrian wine – called Servüs, the dialekt equivalent of aloha – for Heidi and husband, Michael, in thanks for their food and hospitality.  It was only a cheap thing, but they appreciated the gesture.

I also bought Waltraud a plant.  She has several Phalaenopsis, which Heidi pointed out to me, and I bought her another.  I was going to get a small one for €13, but it was a choice of that or a much bigger one for only €3 more.  For the past 10 days, Waltraud has fed me, given me a bed, washed my clothes and gone out of her way to take me places in the area.  She allowed me to stay with her family and in doing so, invited me to take part in her family’s Easter celebrations.  An extra €3 was the least I could do.

She was almost in tears of happiness when I gave her the plant – she calls it her Queen – and Robert was beaming at me.  I’d wanted to get him something as well, but I couldn’t work out what.  In the end, what I’ve learned about Robert is that his greatest joy is his family.  It’s subtle, but whenever he’s listening to his grandchildren babble or he sees his wife and kids happy, there is never anything other than a smile on his face.  I kind of hope he smiles like that when he thinks of me.

I’ve really enjoyed my time in Kitzbühel.  This place is my home, even if I am barely here.  The one downside of the place is that there’s no one my own age here to experience this with me.  A friend in Wien said he wanted to visit Salzburg and Innsbruck.  I’m going to see if he wants to add Kitzbühel to his itinerary.  I’d like to show him around.

A more family-friendly Easter blog

April 12, 2009

Easter Sunday was a lot of fun.

I went to mass first thing in the morning, mainly to hear Robert and Waltraud sing in the choir.  It was much nicer than the singing in English churches – where it’s usually droning and mournful – you could actually believe people here when they sang “Hosanna”.

After the mass was over, I played with Heidi and Michael’s kids, which is new.  I tend to get exasperated by kids quickly.  I think it’s because I went to high school with so many little brats that I’m predisposed to think they’re all like that, but Heidi’s two are adorable and seem to bring out the Uncle Smashing gene in me.  So I played with them and took photographs to bring home to show my parents.  I also got to see Katharin and her husband and kids.  They came round for lunch and introduced me to the Austrian tradition of godparents giving their godchildren presents at Easter.

After lunch we went to Paul’s house and spent the afternoon in his garden.  He lives on the Kitzbühelerhorn, so his garden get’s the sun in the afternoon and there was a lot of sun to be had; there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

There was an Easter Egg hunt organised, which I initally thought was just fo the kids, but no, the whole family had an Easter basket to find, including – I was surprised to discover – me!  I was at down watching everyone look when Paul mentioned that he had already seen mine, I was touched to be included as part of the family.  Even moreso when I discovered they had supplanted a chocolate egg in favour of beer.

My Easter Sunday in a nutshell

My Easter Sunday in a nutshell

Sitting there, I felt totally relaxed.  I still didn’t understand half of what was being said, but I was content to sit and drink and let it all wash over me.  I managed to get some more pictures, including a big family portrait.  I even got one of Heidi’s children on the balcony I used to play on as a kid when we got back to Robert and Waltraud’s; I’d brought the kids a big chocolate rabbit each and Heidi was good enough to help me use them as bribes.