A Chronicle Of My Experiences Living Abroad

A Chronicle Of My Experiences Living Abroad: July 2013

July 30, 2013

An expensive church visit

St Charles Church (Karlskirche) is one of the well known churches in Vienna. It's of baroque style architecture and a pretty impressive one at that. It's also the seat of the Catholic student ministry of the Vienna University of Technology. There is a lift on the inside that takes you to the dome of the church. It was quite disappointing, because it was inside and the views of Vienna were obscured by protective dirty windows and then protective window fencing.  Those who want to go inside will have to pay a hefty 8 euros per person. This is by far the most expensive payment of any church Hubs and I have ever been to in recent memory. Usually, you would just donate money at the entrance of most places of worship, which we usually do without a second thought. So was it worth it? I'd like to think so. I especially LOVED the frescoes and alter.

July 28, 2013


What do you do when the weather forecasts 100 degrees? Explore a park with lots of shady areas and hurry home to one of the few air conditioned places in town.

July 25, 2013

Throwback Thursdays: Yearly Tradition

It all started as just a weekend trip to New York City in 2008, but soon after we were under its spell and made it a yearly tradition of regular visits. We loved it, especially during November and December, because all the Christmas decorations and markets made it all the more extraordinary. Since our birthdays fall shortly before and after Christmas, we usually do a big combined gift for one another. Hubs is an avid fan of the Capitals and had season tickets up until we moved. One year, I surprised him with tickets to the Washington Capitals vs. New York Rangers game at Madison Square Garden. Hubs said it's one of his favorite games he's ever been to, because of how exciting it was.  The Capitals were being the "Crapitals", and going into the third period were down 4-1.  The Caps scored 3 goals in the third period to send it to overtime.  Then, they won in overtime; the goal happened right in front of us (I got kick-ass seats behind the goal).  He wanted to celebrate, but was afraid to get beat up by the NY Ranger fans. He also got his picture taken with George McPhee, who is the general manager of the Capitals. To this day, it's still one of his favorite gifts I've ever gotten him. During another one of our trips to the Big Apple, we started to talk seriously about marriage and even went into the famous Tiffany store to play around with rings. And another separate stay, we saw a Broadway show starring Jennifer Garner and I remember standing in the rain waiting to get her autograph. We were soaked because someone (cough, cough) didn't think it would rain and didn't bring an umbrella, but it was totally worth it! Many great memories in one of our favorite cities.

At Serendipity's. We witnessed three couples get engaged during our stay too. Must have been a sign!

Just a few days after we got married. It was our  mini-moon before we took the real one 3 months later.

One of my all time favorite pictures of us!

July 22, 2013

A different perspective

A few weeks ago when I started to contemplate on how I would write a recap of the last six months, Hubs came up with a really great idea of us both writing our own versions. So here is his account of the last six months:

Six months in Vienna.  Lots of memories have been made (good and bad).  Leading up to coming here we both were scared of what waited for us on this side of the pond.  However, just before our arrival, Vienna was named the top city to live in in the world.  So we thought there’s no reason to be afraid, because the streets, obviously, were made of chocolate.  I had no expectations of Vienna, I was not aware of the culture, history, cuisine, etc...  In my mind, this place was a blank slate, and I was ready to let it mold me, inspire me, and convince me that the biggest life risk we’ve ever taken wasn’t going to be a mistake.  To be honest, I can’t say we’re in love with Vienna, but we certainly don’t hate it either.  From what we’ve been told, there’s an emotional cycle when moving to another country.  The first 2-3 months are a high, the next 6 months are the lows, and finally there’s a recovery to somewhere in between.  I’d like to believe that we’ve passed the lows and are on our way back up.

We hate moving.  Hate it.  But, it does make it more palatable when someone else is doing the packing for you.  Leading up the move we got rid of stuff.  Some stuff.  OK, we unloaded several carfulls of stuff.  Either to the dump it went, or our awesome family and friends were kind enough to take it off our hands.  You never realize how many possessions you accumulate until it’s time to move them.  So many times I would go through items we hadn’t touched in years and say, “what were we thinking when we bought this?”.  The UN would have paid for us to store anything we wanted until we came back, but we didn’t take the option.  The “cleansing” process was an incredibly more satisfying feeling for us.

We arrived in the middle of winter and, unbeknownst to us, one of the coldest and snowiest winters Vienna had seen in 100+ years.  We came with 4 full-size suitcases, 2 carry-ons, 2 bags, and a dog with on the flight.  It was surreal seeing all of those items lumped on a cart in the Vienna airport being wheeled out to our mini-van taxi.  Our taxi driver wasn’t the nicest, but did get us directly from the airport to our temporary apartment without issue.  As I mentioned before, there was snow everywhere, even on the streets and sidewalks.  He dropped us off, took the luggage out of the van, left them all in the middle of the street, and before we noticed, hopped back in the van and took off. We did want to tip him, but 'oh well'.  “Welcome to Vienna, stupid Americans”, is what came to mind.

Temporary apartment living wasn’t so bad.  My wonderful wife booked us an apartment, as opposed to a hotel.  Having our own place gave us the chance to cook what we wanted and at least feel like something close to a home.  I will always have warm memories of our first place here.  Finding a long-term place was easy, to me at least, because Elaine took care of all the hard stuff before arriving.  She had lined up 6-7 places for us to see the first week we were here.  One of the things you don’t get quite used to is most places have one shower, one sink, and one toilet.  I know what you're thinking, “but Phil, you just described a typical bathroom.”  I did, but I didn’t clarify where each of them are located.  In a typical apartment, the toilet is in one room and the shower and sink are located in another separate room.  In the places we looked at, the two separate rooms were located at opposite ends of the apartment.  We didn’t end up with a place like I descibed.  We were lucky enough to find an apartment that was built more recently which has two complete bathrooms, like in the US.  Our apartment was the first place we looked at, and we immediately knew we had to jump on it.  We feel very fortunate to have this place.

The language is a problem for us.  We were conscious of the language barrier before we came. Elaine completed one month of intensive German courses in the spring and will be taking another in fall.  I haven’t started yet, but plan to start this fall as well.  Most people here can speak English, especially the younger generation.  We don’t like relying on other people knowing English, though.  We will be working to fix this.  

Hershey has probably adjusted best.  He loves it here.  There are tons of other dogs he gets to see everyday.  I am not exaggerating when I say this: Viennese treat dogs better than kids.  This city is very dog friendly.  You can take dogs in any public transit vehicles, restaurants, cafes, markets, and even grocery stores have a hook out front where you can 'hitch' your dog while you’re inside shopping.  When I walk Hershey, I get a lot of smiles from the ladies.  They talk to me about him.  He’s a real chick magnet.  What I should tell you is, all the ‘ladies’ that have talked to me are in their 70s or 80s, and they’re not talking to me, they’re talk to him, directly.  One of the ladies even offered him her fur coat when it was cold and snowy out.  He’s a real ladies man.

Work is work.  The job I have here is no different from the job I would be doing in the US.  The main difference is there are a lot of people from several nationalities.  Since it’s a UN job, the official office language in English.  I get to work in an English bubble for 9-10 hours per day.  The biggest perk is we get 30 days of annual leave, with the ability to earn another 10 more by accruing comp time.  You’d think nothing gets done, but the other side of that argument is that people may work harder to keep jobs with better perks.  I feel like the unit I’m in works hard, and we DO want to make a difference.  I don’t know why people think this, but the UN is not part of the US government, or have any affiliation.  I’ve had several family members make this assumption, and I don’t get it.  Yes, the US is the primary financier, but several other countries pay their dues as well.  Employment selection is based on nationality first, in proportion to amount of funding received from a particular nation.  Just to drive the point home, I'm the only American in my unit, out of 12 people.  The UN is, however, essentially an international government run by other international governments.  In this setup, decisions and change are often slow to materialize.

We are not on a long-term vacation.  We lead the same lives here as we did back in the states.  We still grocery shop, we still pay bills, and we still go to the dry cleaners.  The language and culture are the main differences.  Jumping from one European country to another is the same as getting in your car and driving to another state.  We just happen to be smack in the middle of Europe and have access to several ‘states’.

The public transit in Vienna is remarkable.  Undergrounds, street trams, buses, and light-rail trains all combine to allow us to eschew owning a car.  I haven’t driven a car since January 21st on our way to Dulles airport.  Converting liters to gallons and then Euros to Dollars, a gallon of gas costs about $7.  I don’t want to hear any complaints about $4 gas in the US.  Get real.  Hardly anyone drives ‘urban assault vehicles’ here, that’s how they cut down on fuel expenses; it's most small diesel cars.  We have not even once contemplated buying a car here, there is just no need.  If we ever need to drive somewhere rural we will rent a car.  Owning a car, paying for parking, insurance, gas, and maintenance....no thanks.  We’ll save that money for later when we actually need to drive again.

It’s only been 6 months and we’ll be here for at least 3 years.  I have a feeling we will eventually fall in love with this city.  From what we have been told, after two years you’re hooked and don’t want to leave.  I have a bad (or good) habit in that I always give people the benefit of the doubt and try not to judge others.  I want to give the city the benefit of the doubt and believe that it can only get better.  I’m hoping that one day Vienna can prove us completely wrong and truly be the all-round best city to live in in the world and not just a pretty good city.

July 21, 2013


I can’t believe that we are halfway through our first year living here.  To put it lightly, the last six months has been a roller coaster.  Although the month leading up to our pack-out seem like a distant memory, it still feels like yesterday.  I remember how stressful it was, even though we made lists and checked them several times.  We were both working full time, and after work we’d be working on packing/getting rid of stuff/etc. until bedtime.  There was no room to breathe for that one month.  Even after the pack-out, it still felt like a race against time during our last few weeks in the States.  There were moments where we thought to ourselves, “Will all of this be worth it?”

On January 21st, we made our journey across the ocean with eight suitcases and a dog.   There have been highs and lows; things have either gone really well or extremely frustrating at times. There hasn’t been a middle ground (yet).  Every day is a struggle of some sort. We are not on an eternal vacation. If moving abroad were so easy and idealized like in the movies, wouldn’t everyone be doing it?

In reflection of the last six months, these are some pros and cons of moving our whole lives across an ocean.


  • Living in the middle of the European continent was one of the biggest motivators of moving here; because of all the traveling we’d be able to take advantage of. This may be our only opportunity to go to places like Jordan, Dubai, India, exploring the depths of Europe and parts of Africa for flights that are less than eight hours. Most importantly, having our base here is easier on the pocketbook and time. So, you bet your ass we are going to do as much as humanly and financially possible!

  • Vienna’s public transportation has spoiled us rotten.  Our next destination has to have something similar or be a very walkable city.  With six months of not getting behind the wheel, it’s been blissful.

  • Just by living abroad, our prospective of the world has changed. We thought that traveling had done just that, but living somewhere is very different from visiting one.  Hubs and I have changed and continue to change, adapting to a different culture and new sets of rules.  It’s a rare gift and we try to be in the moment and appreciate this short time in our lives.


  • Learning a new language is not easy, even for someone like me who already has the foundation with two other languages under my belt. German is hard. And Austrian German makes it all the more confusing. There are different words for the same thing.  For example, the box we get in to avoid using the stairs in buildings is called a ‘lift’ in Britain, but an ‘elevator’ in the US - same sort of thing here.  I have taken one month of intensive classes so far and hoping to take one more before the end of the year. So what am I doing during this “in-between” time? I review my notes from class and observe a lot when I’m out. I also try to practice as much as I can, that is usually just when we go out to eat or if I’m buying something.  I know quite a few other expats that are just getting by with not learning it and I can understand. After all, there are only a handful of countries that speak German and it’s not a U.N. official language. One argument is that if they want to learn a language, it would be a U.N. language so that it could help further their careers if one stays in the system.

  • Living in my newly adapted country is like having a relationship.  There are so many emotions that I deal with on an everyday basis.  Sometimes I feel like I don’t belong here and if I were to go back to the States now, I wouldn’t fit in there either. It’s like I’m in limbo.  Right now, I have a love-hate relationship with Vienna and its people.  The people here are so reserved and keep to themselves; it’s hard to even approach most. But when I get one act of kindness, or a smile, I appreciate it so much more than I would back in the States.  It feels like I’ve won the battle at that moment, or that I’m finally getting through to the locals. I guess that can be good thing, right?

  • Austrian food isn’t that great. It’s warrior food, plain and simple.  You got your choices of boiled meats, schnitzel, sausages, etc. - all with a side of peeled parsley potatoes or bread dumplings the size of baseballs.  Not exactly something you write home about.  However, we have found other tasty alternatives (mostly other cuisines) and making things ourselves to satisfy our taste buds until we travel abroad.

July 18, 2013

Throwback Thursdays: First thoughts of living abroad

Once in a while I'll look back at all the places that Hubs and I have been so fortunate to experience and learn from. And it got me thinking, what if I started a series of nostalgic posts every Thursday? And that is how "Throwback Thursdays" came about. 

To start off the inaugural post, I thought, it would be appropriate to talk about the first destination that actually got us thinking of the possibility of living abroad. A little back story: both of us grew up watching some of our friends and family travel the world and being envious of that, we knew it was a life goal to be able to do those things. We didn't want to wait until retirement age either, because that's not a guarantee. After six years together, we had and continue to make our dreams and goals come true. We've made sacrifices to obtain those precious stamps in our passports. Hubs and I are true believers in the saying "If you want something badly enough, you do what it takes to make it happen!" 

In December 2009, we embarked on our honeymoon to New Zealand and Australia for 23 days. It was magical and even at the end of it all, we didn't want to come back. To this day, we still dream of that trip and what we got out of it. It was then that our minds began to develop a new goal: moving abroad.

Normally I don't post unflattering pictures of us ( who does?), but this particular accomplishment was too good to not include.

July 17, 2013


Now that we are living in a different country, people are always curious of how the healthcare system differs from the States. I'd like to think of my view of it as quite unique. As a consumer, I have now dealt with healthcare systems in four different countries and worked in the system in one. These are my observations and experiences thus far between the U.S. and Austria.

- We have the option of choosing the national or a private insurance. We opted for the private for better doctors and it was actually cheaper than the national.  Also, the national insurance premiums increase if you don't have a child 2-3 years after joining the plan.  We don't try to understand it, we just work with the information.

- We paid about $450 per month back home vs. approximately the equivalent of $365 here.  We haven't seen the normal American practice of "usual and customary" charges, which dictates what a procedure should cost.  American insurance companies cover a percentage of the usual and customary charges, which sometimes doesn't reflect reality.  Here, it's 80% of the actual cost we get back, no questions, haggling, or frustration (...yet).

- Most places here don't have direct ties with private insurance, which means everything has to be paid up front. There is no such thing as a "co-pay". Luckily, the reimbursement is very quick, within 3-5 working days so far.  And in fairness, most procedures here are 'affordable' up front.

- You never wait more than 5-10 minutes past your appointment time.This was a shock to me. In the States, sometimes you wait an hour past your appointment time!

- The doctors are very efficient here and do more testing than back in the States. For instance, I have never heard of getting an ultrasound as part of a yearly check-up with a GYN, unless you're pregnant or have history of cysts. But it's part of the norm here. It caught me off guard during my visit.

So far, we haven't had any negative experiences or complaints. Even veterinarian care here is far cheaper! Our dog has a heart murmur. His visit to the cardiologist, which included an EKG, was $700 back home and the same visit here was about $130. There's no such thing as pet insurance either and with a huge price discrepancy, you wouldn't need it.

July 15, 2013


Our explorations took us to the spa town of Baden, which is situated just south of Vienna. The train ride took about 20 minutes and the scenery was lined with vineyards and farm land. Walking through the beautiful town was wonderful and had a side of sulfuric smells to go with it every now and then. Overall, we would definitely be back to test out the baths when the weather cools down.

And of course, a town in Austria is not one without a church.  In Baden, it was another St. Stephens. It has both Gothic and baroque architectural features and dates back from the Romanesque period. This is also home to the first performance of Mozart's "Ave verum" in the 1792. It has some beautiful stained glass and one of my favorite organs to date!

It didn't surprise me that this little town was dotted with all sorts of water features.

After seeing Monte Carlo in Monaco I don't think anything else can compare to it, but this is a still pretty impressive looking casino.

These were also randomly placed around town, which I thought was adorable!