Tag Archives: holidays

Only in Austria?

5 Jan

Austria has the reputation of being “gemütlich”–one of those words that is well-nigh impossible to translate. If you look in the dictionary, the primary suggestion is “comfortable” but “gemütlich” means much more than that. It implies, among other things, an appreciation for a slower pace of life and a preference for quality of life (if a choice must be made) over standard of living as well as for relaxation over precision.

At the same time, it’s not uncommon for Austrians to be very pragmatic in their pursuit of “Gemütlichkeit”. The image above, from today’s Kurier, informs readers of the best times to take vacation, where “best” is defined as getting the most days off while still using the fewest vacation days (and this in a country where five weeks of vacation per year is the legal minimum).

How does this work? Because Austria, unlike the U.S.A., celebrates its holidays on the day they happen, we have something called “window days” (“Fenstertage”). These are the days that fall between a holiday and a weekend. The graphic above shows where the window days fall in 2019, making it easier for people to get the most out of their vacation days.

Only in Austria?

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“Guten Rutsch!” (~ “Good slide [into the New Year]!”)

31 Dec

Except that I have just read on the infoscreen of the Wiener Linien that it actually comes from a less-known meaning of the word “rutschen,” namely to travel. Bon Voyage into 2019!

Christmas spirit

24 Dec

According to U.S. American standards, the Viennese can be a bit grumpy, but there are signs that they can get into the Christmas spirit, too.

There is a beggar who stands outside my door most days. Over the years, we have built up something of a relationship. It’s sometimes a bit fraught (for example when no matter how much I’ve given he wants more) but we have worked out a way of getting along and even built a bit of a relationship. He’ll be off to Romania to see his family for Christmas tomorrow so today is his last day at work this year.

His Christmas present to me this morning, as I went off to the supermarket for a few last-minute items, was to simply wish me “Frohe Weihnachten” without asking for any money, acknowledging that the banknote I gave him on Saturday was my final contribution. My little extra present was to pick up some sweets for his children along with my shopping. Walking up to my door, I saw one of my neighbors slip him a can of beer. As I handed over the sweets, I smiled and something “Something for the father, something for the children.” He smiled back.

In the words of Scrooge’s nephew: “… I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come around, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them is if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” (Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”, Peter Pauper Press version)

Merry Christmas to all my readers who celebrate Christmas!

Comings and goings

21 Dec

What a day! I wanted to get my pre-Christmas errands done today so that tomorrow I can do my bookkeeping and then I am on vacation. And I managed to get everything on my list done, plus one.

One of the first things Maylo and I did this morning was go to his vet’s. Her hours have changed and I’ve been busy, so I made one quick trip on my way home from work one day to pick up food for Maylo but had to go without him–and even in this digital age there are some things for which the physical beings need to be present. (I won’t go into details.)

I’m so glad we made it today. It was her last day of work before retirement. We might have missed her altogether and gone next year only to find an entirely new face and person there! We were able to say our thank yous and farewells and reminisce about December five years ago when we didn’t know if Maylo would keep his back leg after being hit by a car. (I always feel the need to say at this point that I was out of the country on a business trip when it happened, and Maylo was staying with people I know.)

On my final round of errands this afternoon, I found myself walking past a sewing notions shop (really, one of those specialty shops with every possible kind of button, thread, and clasp but with no fabrics). I’ve been going there off and on for years for those little things that can otherwise be hard to find. Remembering that I needed some Velcro, I stopped in–and discovered that the owner (a delightful, cheerful woman with all the expertise of an old-fashioned shopkeeper in Vienna) is also retiring. I’m glad I stopped in there, too, and was able to thank her for all her help over the years. I was also glad to meet her successor. I have been afraid for years that when she left, the shop would go.

But the title of this post is “Comings and goings,” which means that there is something new to report, too. A week or two ago I noticed a miniature shop called Deli Mediterraneo with Greek products. It is an exquisite, tiny shop with two Greek gentlemen who opened it on December 1. Although they also have expensive, truly gourmet things, they have some delicious olive oil, for example, at prices only slightly higher than the generic brand in my supermarket. And they let you taste them. Bliss.

I bought some Christmas presents there and promised to go back to pick up some things for the New Year’s Eve gathering I am hosting. I have already composed their back story in my mind. You may know that life in Greece is extremely difficult at the moment and has been for a number of years. My suspicion is that these two gentlemen decided to start over in a country where the economy is still in good shape. They were lovely and friendly, doing the best they could in the German they have learned, and I wish them all the very best. If you want to try out their olive oils or take a look at their cheeses and other products, then go to Alser Straße 39 (very near Humanic at the corner of Alser Straße and Skodagasse) and enjoy!

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception

8 Dec

The Trafik was closed this morning! I knew today is a holiday. When I woke up I suspected that was why I was able to sleep late on a Saturday. However, many years ago, the government decided to allow shops to open on Mariä Empfängnis so that people could do their Christmas shopping. That made me think our Trafik would be open, too.

Instead, disappointment was great. Maylo pulled me over with great enthusiasm right up to the door and then looked at me as if to say, “What’s happening? Where are they?” And I had to explain that they were having a well-deserved day off.

A new corner of Vienna

26 Oct

Somehow I find myself avoiding my usual corners of Vienna, like Neuwaldegg or Nussberg. They’ve been so crowded recently that I’ve hardly enjoyed my walks there with Maylo. I think it’s great that so many people are out in our beautiful fall weather getting some exercise and fresh air. I just don’t want to share the space with all of them. It isn’t very restful.

Today, on the Nationalfeiertag (celebration of Austria’s neutrality clause after the Second World War), Maylo and I followed up a tip from another dog person and took the U1 out to its new (to me) terminus, Oberlaa, where there’s a clinic / spa with thermal waters.

 

My ancient (1988) Baedeker’s Austria tells me that the Kurzentrum Wien-Oberlaa is a “spa treatment establishment” opened in 1974, a date that doesn’t surprise me as it showed up constantly on the various signs in the Kurpark. The site was the scene of the Vienna International Garden Show in 1974, and a number of attractions in this 860,000-square-meter green space, like the sculpture on the Rosenhügel or the Japanese garden, date back from that year.

 

Unlike many of Germany and Austria’s spa towns, Oberlaa does not seem to have a long history of people taking the waters there in spite of the fact that they, according to my Baedeker’s, have one of the strongest and hottest sulfur springs in Austria. (I figured out about the sulfur without Baedeker’s help. You smell it the moment you get out of the underground station.) So it’s not very traditional but they wasted no time in establishing two things essential to any Kurort: the park and a famous patisserie.

The park, true to Kurparks everywhere, is a carefully controlled environment suitable to people being treated for various maladies. There are paved paths, railings, lots of benches to rest on, carefully tended flowerbeds and lawns, and completely tamed bodies of water. It’s also suitable for people staying for several weeks at a time, providing different attractions like a petting zoo, restaurants, different kinds of gardens including an allergy garden(!), and, no doubt, somewhere a gazebo for concerts on fine days. We wouldn’t want people to get bored while they’re being treated!

 

Maylo and I didn’t make it to the patisserie, Kurkonditorei Oberlaa, but we wandered about the park and enjoyed ourselves, catching the impressively clean and quick U1 back into town when we had had enough.

Our excursion has inspired me to start a new practice. I’m going to try to get around to all the underground stations in Vienna to see what is there, focusing especially on those stations I don’t go to regularly. Look for more under the tag “U-Bahn stations”.

A note for my readers not familiar with the Austrian concept of Kur. A Kur is a stay, usually about three weeks, at a nice, although sometimes somewhat clinical, hotel at a place with special springs where various medical conditions are treated. Several of my friends have been on Kur for intensive physiotherapy. It’s almost de rigeur after major surgery. And sometimes it is prescribed simply because people are feeling run down. It sounds like something for rich people and did use to be. The aristocracy of Europe used to run into each other at Kurorte all over Germany and Austria and similar places of healing in Switzerland (those sanatoriums!). These days, though, it is prescribed through the national health system here and patients pay only a tiny daily rate based on their income. There’s something (else) to be said for social democracy.

This means that a Kurort is a town with such an establishment, a Kurpark is a park attached to such an establishment, and a Kurkonditorei is a Konditorei or patisserie especially associated with such an establishment, essential because the Austrians, on the whole, have never been all that good at denying themselves the pleasures of life if they could help it.

Pentecost Monday (holiday)

21 May

I found myself early-ish this morning, about 20 minutes on foot from Stephansplatz, the heart of the city, walking along in peace and quiet with a thrush singing from a rooftop on my right and a dove cooing in the park on my left. My heart sang along.