Austria

Austrian construction sites

This is a photo of the construction site across the road from my office in Vienna. Some of my colleagues who look out at this view were telling me about the goings on there in the last fortnight.

Vienna construction site.

Vienna Construction site (in the 2nd district). Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S, SK.

Apparently last week a worked fell off the platform that runs along the bottom. Its about 5m to the ground form there and I am told he looked pretty bad when the Ambulance came for him. After that there was a push to put railings around all the rest of the scaffolding on site. But a few days ago one of the tower cranes dropped a container on the scaffolding at the back. You can see the damage marked with the other red ring. The load went right through the planking like a bullet through butter until it hit the ground.

Damage to the scaffolding.

Damage to the scaffolding. Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S, SK.

The funny thing is, that this being Austria the site remains open and as you can see (the red ring at the bottom) the rest of the staff continue to work without PPE! For all our whining, you wouldn’t see that in Ireland. The site would probably be shut by not for a full health and safety assessment after 2 big accidents in as many weeks.

History for slow learners

On the tram to work today I saw a poster for some Marxist group. They were calling for revolution and were using the Paris uprising of 1871 as their model. It always amuses me how people on the far left seem to draw the wrong conclusions from the lessons of history.

If I was looking for something inspirational to rouse the masses I am not sure a 2 month long experiment in local government, that arose out a humiliating military defeat, and was then brutally and bloodily crushed is the best model.

Interestingly I see that the longest and most bitter legacy of the Paris Commune is the fight between various shades of anarchist and Marxist over why the whole thing collapsed. You nearly would think Marx had been an Irish man, the way most of his followers devote so much energy to fighting each other rather than the bourgeoisie oppressors of the proletariat.

Spring in Vienna

Spring is officially underway in Vienna. This means 20°C days, eating and drinking outside like civilized people (or barbarians depending on your level of technological advancement), and wearing less clothes. Though the last one is more on an Irish thing at the moment. I think the Austrians will only really start to ditch jackets and hats, and embrace short sleeve and showing off their legs when things go over 25°C.

Anyway today Laura and I took the opportunity to enjoy what would be an Irish summer’s day (22°C), on the 2nd of April. We needed some meat and some stuff for a picnic tomorrow so we went to the Naschmarkt. While there we took the opportunity to have a nice fish lunch and I had my first Aperol Spritzer of the season.

Aperol Spritzer in Vienna

Aperol Spritzer in Vienna’s Naschmarkt. Sony Ericsson X10 Mini Pro, SK.

It seems to be something of a signature Vienna summer drink. It was much later in the summer when I discovered them last year. They are a nice alternative to beer, and in a little while I will put a recipe for one up here.

Of wood floors, Afghanistan and my vices.

Houses in Vienna seem to all be fitted with wood floors. Carpets mean rugs, so there are plenty of Afghan/Persian rug shops around town. The rugs in our house come in two varieties. Cheap as (and probably made from) sackcloth ones out of Ikea, and a big 3m^2 genuine Afghan rug which was acquired in that country and given to us as a sort of wedding gift*.

Now I think I have mentioned before that I am something of a cheapskate, and I really don’t have any self indulgent vices. Anyone who knows me and comes to our house would know straight away that the paintings on the walls have to be Laura’s, and that the rug couldn’t have come from me.

Lately I have developed a bit of an interest in all thing Afghanistan. I have been reading books, wathing films and so on. I even have developed a terrible desire to visit the country. Though not great enough a desire to risk life and limb doing so. Anyway, Laura tipped me off about a nearby shop which sells Afghani merchanise. I thought I would drop in this morning.

The owner was down the back playing a zitar when I arrived which was a nice touch. To the front was jewelry, hats, some furniture, and down the back he had carpets. He spoke good English and we got to chatting. I have a vague idea that maybe I might get a cheap prayer mat to use when doing my back exercises. The irony of an athiest prostrating themselves on an Islamic prayer rug daily amuses me greatly.

So we had a look though his piles of rugs, I confess I think I was smitten. Many of them were absolutely beautiful. And not just the amazing silk and fine wool ones with 100 stitches per square cm. Even a simply patterned, two colour one from Baluch was attractive. It is just a shame that the cheapest was €150. I am slightly worried that this could become my vice. I mean a good Afghan rug is an investment isn’t it? It would appreciate in value, and just look at the quality. Hmmm, who am I trying to convince here?

I didn’t buy this time, but I did see one or two I quite like. Some self justification and thought will be needed. Back at home I did some research, and I did come across this tale from a Canadian in Afghanistan who sounds a note of caution…

“There is more complexity, contradiction, misinformation, and dishonesty in the carpet trade than any other business I can think of with the exception of mobile phone contracts.”

…but still enjoys the experience of buying his rug in Kabul. If I take the plunge, I doubt my rug buying experience will be as colourful in boring Vienna but I might get some tale from the acquiring anyway.

* Bit of a story there but I would have to check do I have permission to share it first.

Vienna by night, and by snow

Had to fix this one:

Vienna Street in the snow

Vienna street in the snow. Canon EOS300D, SK.

This was a photo I took on the 3rd of December of the street in front of our apartment building. Everywhere was covered in snow (we were told it was unusually heavy amounts of snow for Vienna before the end of the year), the Christmas lights were on, and the streets were empty. If was very festive.

Unfortunately Vienna is subject to foehn winds. These blow down off the eastern side of the Alps and are warm, and dry. They can raise temperatures by 10-15°C in a day. They are fatal for the white stuff, so they are known as “snow eaters”. A foehn a couple of days later melted all the snow, about 25cm of it, in 48 hours. And that was the last we have seen of snow since.

Over Christmas and new year it was cold, still keeping down below zero, and occasionally down to -7°C. But it remained dry, and January has been mild (even days of 12°C) and damp. I miss the snow. It turns out that the snowy conditions which Vienna had last spring were not the norm.

So for now we are stuck with grey gloomy weather, though it is drier than in Ireland. And we should get at least one more dump of snow in Vienna before the winter is out. I guess if if I want a proper snow-on-the-ground-for-3-months winter I will have to go to Sweden. Maybe the next assignment…

Names are important

This was the XKCD cartoon from a few days ago:
XKCD map of the world

XKCD Cartoon from Jan 2011. Randall Munroe.

Mr Munroe did a pretty good job here, but he messed up one part. He lumped Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, all of the former Yugoslav states, Albania and even Greece into “Eastern Europe”. That would get up the noses of 50 million people real quick (and no I am not going to check the exact figure on Wikipedia). Something you learn out here is that all the citizens of those countries are very prickly about being called “Eastern European”. Eastern Europe is the former Soviet Union. This is Central Europe. More than once I have seen a Pole, or Slovak, or Czech correct a clueless Western European. BTW, I don’t mean to pick on Randall about this as I was planning to write about it anyway.

Doing a lot of travel and meeting people from all over the world I try to be sensitive to this sort of thing. It always used bug me in Sweden that I never really found out whether the locals were okay with the term “Scandinavia”. “Nordics” was used often enough, but I rarely heard Scandinavia. And when I asked I got non-committal answers that left me wondering if they were just being polite and didn’t want to show they were offended.

The one I have had to discuss most often with people is the local Irish one – “British Isles“. I argue (usually over a pint or lunch with some work colleagues who will include an inhabitant of our larger neighbour) that the term is redundant and inaccurate. I mean does anyone know where the “Dutch East Indies” are these days? I have enough sense of course not to make a big issue about it, and after stating my piece once it becomes a joke, or a way to try and rise Seamus in future. Interestingly in work, my Swedish company uses the term “North West Europe” or “UK and Ireland” to refer to the two countries.

When I got out here I was aware of the sensitivity about “Eastern Europe”. But that hasn’t stopped me putting my foot in it. In September last year I was introducing myself at a meeting with some potential customers. I had to describe the countries in my area of responsibility (Central Europe) and I jokingly referred to it as “the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Poland”. There was a Czech guy across the table from me, and quick as a flash he corrected me “that’s the Hapsburg Empire”. Woops.

Happy New Year from Vienna

We celebrated the arrival of 2011 with the Viennese last night. They mark the arrival of the new year by letting off fireworks all over the ciry for hours on end. I have never heard or seen the like before. We went onto our balcony to toast midnight and from every direction the thunder of thousands of fireworks could be heard, the sky was lit by hundreds of flashes, and even our neighbours were defening us with rockets.

New Year's Eve Fireworks

Fireworks over Vienna to mark New Years Eve. Canon EOS 300D, SK.

Now I know why the local Aldi had been doing a roaring trade in fireworks for the last week. I have been in the US for July 4th and this was considerably more spectacular. It had started when the sun went down and was still going when we woke to settle Rosemary at 4am.

I have a video I will try and put up as well. Until then, Happy New Year to everyone!

Something in the air

When I was growing up in Limerick I always associated the rare bitter north wind with winter, and especially with snow. There was a bite to it that spoke of the coming whiteness, even if it only lasted for a few hours. That was the smell of anticipation. When I moved to Dublin that same bitter north was pretty common all winter, and rarely meant snow. I still love the smell of a north wind. It says winter, ice, cold, but it’s cold and fresh and makes you alive, it “blows away the cobwebs of mediocrity” as a friend would say.

I haven’t been in Vienna long enough to know how it will work here. But there was some combination of sensations today, I don’t know what, that said winter snow to me. It was more a ski resort smell than an Irish snow, or an alpine glacier, but for a moment I was hit by that feeling – the snow is coming. For all I know it might just have been the smell of the bleach in the toilets, familiar from trips to Austrian reports like Hinterglemm, or Kitzbuhel. The feeling is there though, snow is on the way, and with it the true winter, one of the things I am looking forward to about living in Austria.

To be frank it can’t come soon enough. Last weekend was the official opening of the Christmas season. The lights were turned on in Vienna, and the first Christmas markets were opened. Except as I walked around Mariahilferstrasse on Saturday it was a balmy 18°C. I was wearing a t-shirt and a fleece and I had my sleeves rolled up. The locals are complaining that this is more like beer than gluhwein weather. I am told it can change fast though. I was like this last year when the markets opened, but by the time Laura and I got to Vienna in mid December last year there was snow and cold a plenty. Here’s hoping for a repeat.

Vienna photos

I have been pretty poor at taking photos, and telling stories about our new home city. I was on my own at the weekend. So after spending Saturday with an Italian geologist crawling through a forest near the Czech border while getting shot at by Austrians, I headed out with the camera in the fine sunshine on Sunday to walk the Ring. These are the photos.
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Hiking in Austria

Last weekend I had my first trip out with the Alpine Club Vienna, the English speaking branch of the Austrian Alpine Federation.

It was a fantastic walk. I signed up for the Rauher Kamm ridge up the side of the Ötscher. But in the end I think the spectacular Ötscher gorge was the highlight. The trip details are here.

It was a two day hike. We started up the gorge, then doubled back under the mountain to do the fine grade I/II scramble. The rain held off until we summitted then it came down fat and heavy, a good Irish pour. And there were hailstones too. Fortunately it was just 45 minutes to the hut with heat, warm food and beer. There even were free hot showers!

The next day was much clearer. We went back into the gorge to walk out to Wienerbruck where the cars had been left. A day of descent, apart from the final 200m, thigh busting climb out of the gorge.

All in all, about 30km of hiking, 1500m of ascent, in 15 hours. But don’t take my word for it. Here are the pictures.
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