A Chronicle Of My Experiences Living Abroad

A Chronicle Of My Experiences Living Abroad

January 23, 2014

Year One: Hub's Point of View

Like the six month posts, Hubs wanted to provide his views of our first year here in Vienna:

A year has gone by, and like everyone seems to be saying about their own lives, “Where has the time gone?!”.  A year ago, we arrived jetlagged like hell.  I remember about 10 minutes out from the airport looking down to a snow covered country and not recognizing anything.   All the times we had flown into BWI I could make out certain routes, bridges, buildings, rivers, terrains, etc...However, seeing new terrains, buildings, roads...was downright frightening.  That is my first memory of Austria.

New places always seem big
If I go anywhere new, I think my main goal is not to get lost.  I always try to get a frame of reference based on the one or two landmarks I know.  NYC, for instance, seemed HUGE the first time I went...well...because it is, but, each time I visited NYC, subsequently, it seemed a little smaller.  I eventually knew how to get around fairly easy.  The same applied to Vienna.  I remember we were lost a few times looking for a particular shop, or went on public transit the wrong direction.  The city seemed HUGE, and confusing.  During the first week, we set out to find a place called “The Juice Factory”.  Elaine had researched it before we came and really wanted to try it.  We took the public transit where we were supposed to, but didn’t know which direction to walk when we came up from underground.  We wandered the snowy streets and alleyways for about 20 minutes on 25 degree weather before we gave up (no smartphones yet).  I remember thinking that we were never going to figure out how to navigate around the giant buildings and the giant city.  Now, everything seems smaller.  I’ve come to realize that Vienna is not a big city, it’s very compact.  We still haven’t been to the “Juice Factory”, but ironically, our neighbors (as in the apartment adjacent to us) are the owners of it.  Small world, smaller city.

Street food smells
This is something I meant to include in my 6-month post, but ran out of time.  Viennese eating habits are perplexing, to say the least.  In the morning, there are tons of bakeries around town serving croissants, breads, donuts, buns, etc...Bakeries, I would say, have a comforting aroma.  There’s one bakery at the start of my commute.  At the end of my commute (7:45AM), the smell, in a word, is, “terrifying”.  I wish I were exaggerating.  At just about every subway stop you will find many stands peddling “Doner Kebap”.  It is, without a doubt, the most disgusting food/smell I have ever had the opportunity to be around.  If you don’t know what the “meat” in a “Doner Kebap” looks like, see below. A mish-mash of mystery meat & fat disgustingness on a spinning spike as it’s warmed by the toaster behind it.  It gets worse, though.  You can’t have a real Doner Kebap without a helping of onions. These are the closest pictures I could find that resembles what I'm talking about:


I literally start gagging when I see or smell the rotating, steamy, sweaty meat and onions - especially in the mornings.  Unfortunately for me, this food item is incredibly common for Viennese to eat - especially in closed spaces, such as: all forms of public transportation.

Next up, Pizza.  I know what you’re thinking, how can anyone mess up Pizza, Phil?!  Leave it to the Viennese to give it their best shot.  When you think about your favorite pizza, what’s on it?  For me, it’s either pepperoni or a plain regular cheese (margherita) pizza.  Pretty simple.  There are two toppings in Vienna which are incredibly popular, but also really really confusing to me.  The first is corn...CORN!?  Who in their right mind puts corn on their pizza?  Typically, the combination you’ll find is ham, onion, and corn pizza.  I wish I were making this up.  The second topping makes the first one seem normal: canned (dark) tuna fish.  After watching what Viennese people eat this year, I’ve come to the conclusion that they have no taste buds or sense of smell.  Canned tuna fish, in my opinion, has a horrible smell.  I know a lot of people like it on sandwiches and can eat it cold.  That I can accept, but on pizza?  I’m not so sure.  That’s bad smell x10 after cooking.  Tuna pizza is so popular here, you can find it in the frozen pizza section at the grocery store.  The pizza stands at subway stops make pizza on-site, but the catch is, it sits there for hours getting cold, and congealing back to solid form.  The other common street foods are different types of sausages (no big surprise) and asian-ish stir-fry noodles.  

There are typically two types of people in this world when it comes to eating, there’s people who “eat to live” and those who “live to eat”.  Given America’s burgeoning weight problem, I’d say we definitely live to eat.  Viennese, in my opinion, eat to live.  They. do. not. care. what it looks or tastes like.  If it’s food, they eat it.  Take the pizza slices for instance; sitting there for hours getting cold and solid...no problem...they’ll take two slices, please.  I think I’ve gone on about this enough, but in closing...Elaine and I (and other expat couples we know) do not like Austrian food at all.  Heavy, fatty, meat intense, bland, salty, and void of any spices besides salt & pepper is how to describe Austrian food.  The people here swear by it, but I ask you this...when was the last time you saw an Austrian restaurant open in your town?

Banking and various accounts
Banking here is advanced and trapped in the past at the same time.  It was a complete shock to be charged here, quarterly, for using our money.  It’s about 20 euro ($28) each quarter for us to use the bank, online payments, atms, and our bank cards.  I was angry about being charged when we signed up at first, but, when in Rome.  Europe exclusively uses cards with smart chip technology.  Recently, Target experienced a security breach and one of the topics that was brought up was their initial shot at credit cards with smart chips.  Years ago they were on the leading edge of the technology with their credit card in the US.  In order to use it, you had to have a smart chip credit card reader to use the credit card at home.  They even provided the technology to do so.  But, it was wholly rejected by the industry.  Some of the headache of stolen CC information could have been prevented.  In any case, Europe has a safer system of bank and credit cards.  Additionally, you can use any ATM in the city, from any bank, surcharge free.  It’s quite easy to get money almost anywhere, you can even specify the bill denominations it dispenses.  It’s quite convenient.  The service at the banks is also quite good, I have to say.  I’ve been happy with those aspects...thus far.  The banking system in Europe has really been pushing for the ease of online payments to businesses and people.  Anyone here can receive money as a payment, directly, even in between banks.

Now, here’s the not so convenient, stone age-ish part of banking.  To open an account anywhere is a painful process.  The standard process is fill out a rock slab with a chisel, have it stamped, and signed dually by the you (the customer) and the bank.  Only then can you have to right to open an account.  Seriously.  Opening a credit card in the US is quite easy, fill in a form online, click submit, BOOM, credit account in under 30 seconds.  Here, it’s: download a PDF form, print it, fill it in, reprint it because you messed up, fill it in again, take it to your bank, have them verify you indeed have an account, they stamp and sign it, then I sign it, scan it back into PDF form, email it to a blackhole customer service email address, and a few weeks later you might get a credit card.  Additionally, all credit cards carry an annual fee for their “service”.  

Austrians need everything signed here in order to make things happen.  You want electricity and gas?  We’ll help you after we mail you forms, fill it in, sign, and return.  You want cell phone service?  Here’s a paper, sign it.  Everything important you want to do involves signing your name on a physical sheet of paper.  In an American world of instantness, the Austrian way can seem painful.

Getting around and everyday life
The last time I drove a car was January 21st, 2013.  Do I miss driving?  Not. at. all.  We’re so happy not having cars.  We save money on parking, gas, repairs, insurance, and payments.  The extensive network of subways, street cars, buses, and bike lanes make it impossible to justify buying a car.  I’ve heard people complain about public transportation being dirty, slow/inconvenient, or there’s only crazy homeless people on it.  In fairness, it can be dirty, sometimes slow, and occasionally there are people asking for money.  However, it’s still the best way to get around.  At 365 euro/year, that’s 1 euro/day (for those of you who say “I’m bad at math”) for an unlimited ticket.  It’s unbeatable.

Outside of the things that are different, my days are mostly the same as in the US.  Get up, go to work, come home, and walk the dog.  We rarely do any touristy things during the week and eat in almost all the time.  We prefer eating at home.  We don’t have Austrian TV, only an Apple TV.  We keep up with a few American shows, but otherwise the TV is off.  I also have an online subscription to watch Capitals hockey games.  For the first year, I made excuses about not working out and getting in shape.  A Crossfit gym opened across the street and now I’m a member.  Elaine may join when they offer Yoga and/or Pilates.  

I’ve definitely warmed to Vienna more in the last 6 months, than the first six months.  I feel more comfortable here.  I’ve been learning German, little by little, and I’m starting to get a grasp of what’s going on around us.  On one of our recent trips I started referring to Vienna as “home”.  I don’t know whether to accept it, or be alarmed.  We have a year of memories, and I think once this whole thing is over, it will seem like it went by in the blink of an eye.

January 21, 2014

Year One

Has it really been a year since we moved to Vienna? It's incredible how quickly time passes as we become older. It still feels like yesterday when we were boarding our flight out of Dulles. This past year has been life-changing, and to say it's been a challenge is putting it mildly.

This has certainly been a transitional year filled with travels, frustrations, many laughs and tears. This experience has not only changed me, but my relationship with Hubs and our families. I can honestly say that I’m no longer the same person I was before this adventure. I'm less fearful of the unknown and evolving into a better person because of it. Although I was never one to have very thick skin, slowly but surely, that has definitely changed too. I’ve also learned to do things on my own that used to make me extremely uncomfortable - such as going to unfamiliar places, taking public transportation, traveling alone and even eating alone at a restaurant. I’d still prefer to do these things with other people, but I’m learning that I’m perfectly capable of doing the hard things all by myself. 

The travels we’ve done this year alone have made this journey so rewarding. To be able to say that we've taken trips to Salzburg, London, Budapest, Amsterdam, Prague, Taiwan, and India is pretty incredible. This aspect of the journey has been a dream come true and it’s these moments that personally make this crazy adventure worthwhile.

It’s hard to believe a year has gone by already. And through it all, I do not regret once for choosing to take on this huge endeavor. Most expats would agree that you reach a turning point at the first year mark. It could go two ways - you either start feeling more at home or you absolutely hate it. I've been lucky to have made a few friends and meeting new ones every chance I get. I'd like to think that I'm well on my way to finally finding a middle ground and really calling Vienna "home".

January 19, 2014

Back to the States

Shortly after getting back from India, I had to turn around and hop on a flight back to Maryland. It was for a time sensitive emergency that couldn't be resolved here in Vienna. Although it was a short visit, it allowed me some time to catch up with family and girlfriends. I was reminded of how strong my friendships were with these girls and that it didn't seem like a year had pass since I last saw them. It was comforting and heartwarming. My family and friends also spoiled me with great meals whether it be home-cooked or out.  This was a great little trip back to the familiar, but I'm glad to be home with Hubs.

my mother in-law and stepfather in-law drove an hour and half to come have lunch with me

No one makes a crabcake like the state of Maryland. NO ONE!

I love these girls!

Got my Five Guys burger fix at the airport before heading back to Vienna

January 14, 2014

India Edition: Randomness

And to cap off the India series, here are just some of the random sights we came across. Who needs a zoo when you've got the streets of India filled with animals. In addition, although it was an enjoyable trip, the amount of extreme poverty was hard to see. There are no rules on the roads, and for the first few days, Hubs and I thought we would witness an accident or be in one. As one of guides puts it, it's "functional chaos". It doesn't make sense to those of us from industrialized countries, but I hate to say this- it works somehow.

looking out at the Arabian Sea

Cows have the right of way on the roads here

There were tons of monkeys in Jaipur


January 9, 2014

India Edtion: The Golden Triangle (Part Two)

Jaipur was our next stop. Although it's called the "pink city", it looked more terracotta and orange to us. We saw the Amber Fort, did an elephant safari, enjoyed a home cooked meal at local family's house, and explored one of the many bazaars. Jaipur is also known for its block printing and textiles. We did quite a bit of shopping, including getting custom tunics for myself and Hubs got some linen shirts made. Again, I was amazed how fast they can do custom work here. There was also a hiccup during our visit. The cliched snake charmers are in this region. And anyone who knows me, knows that I'm deathly afraid of snakes. So much so, that I can't even look at a picture of one without having the heebee jeebees. So while our guide was introducing us to the fort, I noticed a guy come by and didn't think anything of it. However as our guide was finishing, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a basket open and I immediately freaked out at the sight of the black cobra with a full on scream. The guide shooed the guy away and comforted me. She even assured me that all the venom is taken out. I was thinking " I don't effing care, it's still a goddamn snake!". That image stayed with me for a good hour and I was still shaking. Stupid snake charmer! Other than that, we enjoyed this city.

tourist trap-our elephant safari was done on a private property.

All sorts of animals roam the streets of India

Didn't know that fresh tumeric looked like ginger!

Never seen this color carrot before!

these tuc tucs were EVERYWHERE