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Posts tagged ‘Holidays / Significant Dates’

10 Things I Get Now – Austria’s Hidden Gems

When the realization is deep, your whole being is dancing. – Zen saying

1) Sundays, Holidays, midnight – forget the beer, milk or bread run, everything’s closed. So sleep in, everything’s closed!: When you first move here, you open your college-sized fridge Sunday morning to find nothing but a tube of mustard and an expired container of yoghurt, and naïvely believe you’ll start the day shopping. You make your way to Billa to find it closed, and then to Spar – closed, until the reality of life in Austria slowly begins to dawn on you – nothing here is open 24 hours a day / 7 days a week. 7/11? Nope. Not here. In fact, grocery stores usually close by 8 pm Mo – Fr, by 6 pm on Saturday and don’t bother opening at all on Sundays (and you were indignant about the blankets covering the alcohol section in Lowe’s grocery store in NC on Sundays till noon hampering your barbecue drink run). At first you’re annoyed, and then, when you find yourself urgently needing that Dirndl for the Almdudlerball but with no time between work and “Gassi gehen” with Rambo-the-Dachsund to buy one, you feel the ever increasing pang of homesickness and longing for a Super Target. But after a good deal of time (yes, it takes time), you will start to appreciate this anti-shopper mentality. You wake up on Sundays bombarded with no suggestions to go shopping — because you can’t – everything is closed. And this leaves you with 24 glorious hours for a leisurely breakfast – or hey! why don’t you sleep in a little longer and just do  brunch – and then what? A stroll to see the roses in Volksgarten, an afternoon at the Albertina, a bike ride along the Danube, an outing to the Wachau, a trip to see Iqhwa at Schönbrunn Zoo or simply “Faulenzen.” If you get really desperate, you can engage in the favorite Viennese Sunday contact sport of “Elbow-Shopping-at-Billa-at-Pratersten or Sparring-Shoppers-at-Spar-at-Wien-Mitte” but I’d let this crutch go and count your blessings that no one expects you to shop on a Sunday.



2) Bratlfettenbrot: Remember deep fryers and Crisco shortening? Kind of like that. Dark bread slathered with a spread made from the pan grease and topped with a couple raw onion rings, crushed black pepper and paprika. If you prefer the crunchy bits of grease in it, there’s always – Grammelschmalzbrot. It took me many years, a New Year’s eve in an Alpine hut with a group of friends and apricot schnapps, to fully appreciate the appeal of Bratlfettenbrot. In the right setting, with the right people and accompanying drinks, it truly is good (unless your arteries tend to clog).

3) grocery carts with coins: maybe it’s because I can never seem to find the 50 cent, 1 € or 2 € coins but for a long time, chained together grocery carts that can only be released with a coin seemed like the Austrian reminder that I, as an expat, arriving at the store with no grocery cart coin in hand, didn’t have my Billa shopper act together. But carts always abound and are neatly put away, and awaiting even the latest last minute expats rushing through the doors Saturday night at 5:50 pm.

4) buy your grocery bags: Reminder number two of poor grocery store planning skills occurs frequently at the check-out line with the realization that one has brought no backpack, linen bags, wicker shopping basket, or shopping trolley. But find comfort in the fact that by bringing along your linen bag, you are being environmentally friendly and saving yourself the 10 cents per bag you’ll be charged otherwise.

5) pay WC: see grocery cart problem above. But here you have the issue at rest stops along the Autobahn and it’s not like you’re given a lot of alternatives. Over time, however, I’ve come to appreciate the cleanliness 50 cents per person can promote in public restrooms. A bit of a hassle for a lot of clean.

6) main meal at lunch: in the good old days, Austrian shops, banks, post offices, all closed for two hours around noon and if you needed to quickly send off a letter during your lunch break, you were out of luck because Frau Postbeamterin was at home having herself some Knödel and Kraut with the family. Though those days have long passed, you will find that high noon on the weekends is many Austrians favored time for the day’s main meal. Dinner will often consist of some bread and cold cuts, soup or salad. Though I initially missed my evening tacos, I’ve come to appreciate a place where I can go for a stroll along the Donaukanal or a run in Prater, hours after my mid-day lasagna and get a good sleep without worries of heart burn, indigestion, or an amply-sized gut.

7) having to ask for the bill: when you first come to Austria, and your German is iffy at best, it’s understandable that you want to avoid all situations where you are forced to use any. In an attempt to go native in China, I once ventured into a local restaurant and after memorizing the word for tea, proudly ordered a tea. Instead of just bringing any tea, the waitress insisted over and over again, to little ignorant not-understanding me that I choose which tea I’d prefer (know the expression: not for all the tea in China – later I discovered page one of the menu  was dedicated to teas). The waitress walked away in frustration and I fled to find a Pizza Hut. If you choose to flee an Austrian restaurant when the waiter fails to bring your bill, I guarantee you, your bill will arrive promptly. (But I am by no means endorsing this method). But you should know, that Austrian, particularly Viennese waiters, are experts at giving you time to sit, relax, eat, drink a coffee, enjoy a schnapps, chat a bit, and not have to be bothered with the bill until you’re good and ready for it. After living here awhile, you’ll be shocked by the passive-aggressive speediness of bills slapped down on your table in US restaurants before you’ve even had the chance to shuffle the first spoonful of peach cobbler into your mouth.

8) removing shoes: you always remove your shoes when entering an Austrian home and even if the host insists you don’t have to (etiquette almost requires this but it is not meant seriously), you should remove them anyway. As someone who always seems to have a hole in her socks, this was always a bit embarrassing. I’ve learned to wear good socks or none at all and I appreciate not having shoes tracking dirt through my place when I have guests.

9) dogs in Vienna: it seems like every second Viennese owns a Scruffy and they go everywhere – restaurants, subways, they even have their own parks here. I just didn’t get it. Particularly in the days that required every person living in Vienna to do the infamous “Vienna shuffle” to avoid taking home a Scruffy souvenir on the bottom of your shoe before the very successful clean-up-after-your-dog campaigns. But since the “Nimm ein Sackerl für mein Gackerl” campaign that included hundreds of city dog-poo sheriffs controlling the dog owner’s clean up obedience and the 36 € fine for first time offenders if they “overlooked” it, dogs seem to be tidy co-inhabitants of this metropolis. And apparently 70% of the Viennese agree with me about the campaign’s phenomenal success and 47,200 Gackerl Sackerl in Vienna’s public trash cans every single day is nothing to turn your nose up at. And if you want to make friends and influence people in Vienna, get a dog. I’ve seen Omas chatting up bicycle gang members while Oma’s Daisy sniffs out Bicycle Gang Member’s Rambo.


Gotta love soccer

10) Soccer: I’m originally a Pittsburgh girl so sports consisted of baseball, football, hockey and hunting. Soccer? Pleease. Get a real sport. But I’m a convert. I love the game. And I explained why a while ago on my post about the World Cup. What’s not to like about 22 fit guys flexing their tone bodies in an attempt to get a ball into a net? Not to mention the fun of watching a roomful (or barful) of grown men waving their beer glasses and griping at a TV screen about all the off-sides the idiot ref missed. Print This Post

Interesting Links:
The Gackerl Sackerl App to help you find a free bag for your dog’s – well – you know:

This guy ended up paying a whopping 470 € fine for not having a Sackerl for his Kessja (the criminal offender is pictured in the article with her owner).,1016678

Article about the success of the Gackerl Sackerl campaign – warning: if you’re sensitive about images, you may not want to click on the link:

Article about the Vienna “Waste Watchers”, fines and law:


Melting Your Fortune Sculpture For the New Year

Twice in my life, I have had my fortune told by soothsayers. Once, at an esoteric conference in Washington, DC that my college roommate and I visited for lack of something better to do on a Sunday when we should have been studying for finals. As I innocently passed her booth, a babushka clad lady who looked otherwise sane, grabbed my hand, turned it over and demanded to know if the guy with us was my boyfriend. Undeterred by my doubtless shocked expression, she explained she didn’t want my money (she normally charged 20 bucks a reading). Obviously, this was an emergency, and it was her civic duty to warn me in a hushed voice and the most alarmed manner that the gentleman in question was completely wrong for me but there would be someone else in my future who I knew in a former life. And the gentleman in question shouldn’t fret because he and I would meet again in another life on Venus.

Heart metal figure on spoon being melted over a candle

Heart metal figure on spoon being melted over a candle

The second time was a Palestinian student who was in the States and studying medicine. She claimed to read coffee grinds and offered to read mine. Always a sucker for a good coffee, I obliged. She told me she saw me dancing with someone I got along with well and for my future she saw lots

Bleigiessen figure 2014-2015 - a dragon? A boat? A swan?

Bleigiessen figure 2014-2015 – a dragon? A boat? A swan?

of cows. Concerned I might be wasting thousands of dollars on a college education to harvest the land, I inquired further. She explained that cows meant a good fortune and my concerns about a future filled with wake-up calls with cow teats was unfounded.

Needless to say, I’ve become a bit skeptical about fortune telling. But alas, my romanticism perseveres over my skepticism and as well as being a sucker for a good coffee, I love the idea that someone can examine your hand and read some lines, or peer into a coffee cup and interpret your grinds or decipher the figure you’ve melted, and predict what lady fate has in store for you.

My fortune from last year - a bird

My fortune from last year – a bird – my hopes should have been fulfilled this past year – though he also kinda looked like a dragon

From December 26 – December 31, in addition to all the good luck charm kiosks you’ll witness springing up throughout Vienna’s first district, (Good luck charms definedPigs and why they’re lucky), you’ll also be seeing “Bleigießen” packages at the stands, and your local Billas and other grocery stores. (note for smart shoppers: the packages at Libro cost 2.49€, at Billa 2.99€ – same stuff). And though you may know that “Blei” means “lead” and “gießen” “to pour”, you might still not get why hanging amongst pigs, horseshoes, four leaf clovers, and chimney sweeps, are packages of rather bloated metal versions of these exact same figures along with a metal spoon with a wooden handle and a long list of objects and meanings

Time to fortune tell. Because in Austria, you won’t get a fortune cookie at a Chinese restaurant, but you won’t need to. You can tell your fortune for the coming 364 days every New Year’s Eve through the Austrian tradition of Bleigießen.

Me - New Year's Eve in Vienna

Me – New Year’s Eve in Vienna – pleased about a successful Bleigiessen no doubt (or maybe just some good Glühwein)

And no worries about subjecting yourself to lead poisoning by engaging in the holiday fun. It’s no longer lead being melted into indiscernible figures foretelling Austrian and Austriaficianado futures, it’s tin.

1) Package of Bleigießen figurines and Bleigießen spoon.
2) Bowl of water
3) flame (either candle or that nice little Bunsen burner kind of pot you use for the fondue)
4) Interpretation list (see below)
5) good friends
6) a creative, open mind


Holding spoon with figure over candle

Holding spoon with figure over candle

Sometime around 10 pm (give yourself time afterwards to go into the city) on New Year’s Eve, after you’ve amply stuffed yourself either with the mandatory fondue or raclette accompanied by some Austrian Vetliner, Zweigelt or Glühwein, you’re ready to get down to business. First you select your preferred tin figurine, place it on the spoon and place the spoon over a


Dropping hot liquid metal into bowl of water

flame. Let the metal totally melt and then toss into the bowl of water. Be careful with the tossing, the metal drips can get all over the place. Also, practice a bit a turn of the wrist can mean the difference between “watch out for thieves”, and “a baby is looming.” Try to keep your toss in one place, shorten the distance. Then use your imagination to interpret what your figure most closely resembles.


Figurines for Bleigiessen

Figurines for Bleigiessen

Anchor – help is on the horizon

Angel – Good will come to you

Antlers – Misfortune in love

Anvil – Care in career

Apple – trust will be broken

Axe – Disappointment in love

Bag – Unexpected luck

Ball – Keep your bad mood to yourself

Balloon – free yourself from your reins

Included list of fortunes told

Included list in Bleigiessen pacakage of fortunes told

Barge – Luck in your plans

Basket – Lucky in love

Beaker – conserve your energy

Bee – A wedding is looming (gotta love that the wedding “looms”)

Beetle – Nice love experience

Bell – An inheritance will be within reach

Belt – a friendship will deepen

Bird – Your hopes will be fulfilled

Boat – a voyage is on the horizon

Bomb – You’ll escape danger

Bottle – Happy times are on the way

Bridge – new obligations are coming

Broom – A conflict is looming

Bucket – contentment in relationships

Bush (not the former Pres) – Recognize the abilities of others

Butterfly – boundless luck awaits

Cake – A celebration is on the horizon

Camel – new tasks

Candlestick – A light will turn on

Car – promises an undertaking or a risk

Carnation – friends, pleasure, will come your way

Castle – Wishing for change

Cat – you will be spoilt

Chapel – Your strive for peace and quiet

Chicken – Careful of fire

Chimney sweep – Lucky in love

Chrysanthemum – Someone needs your help

Church – You will soon found a household

Clover – contentment and luck

Column – A wish remains unfulfilled

Cone – Care in transactions

Cow – Healing

Crib – Offspring are on their way

Cup – luck and health

Cylinder – Important things await you

Dagger – You will be victorious

Dancer – Don’t take life so seriously

Eagle – success in career

Ear – keep your opinions to yourself

Egg – You family will grow (surprise this one wasn’t “A baby is looming”)

Elephant – You have a lot of power for understanding

Eye Glasses – You will grow very old (hopefully not in a year’s time)

Falcon – someone is jealous of you

Feather – you’re at home with change

Fence – You will clarify a misunderstanding

Field– luck and contentment

Fish – people are talking about you

Fist – You feel beaten

Flag, waving – Head and heart are in different places

Flask – don’t tease anyone

Flowers – new friendships develop

Fork – Arguments and disputes

Frog – You’ll possibly win lots of money

Gallows – Protect yourself from false friends

Garden – A new love will cross your path

Gate – You will change residences

Goat – Expect an inheritance

Goblet – happy future

Gondola – An adventure will come your way

Goose – your luck is fragile

Guitar – secret longings

Hammer – You will go your own way

Hat – Good news

Heart – luck and health will come your way

Hook – obstacles block your path

Horseshoe – A good transaction awaits

Hose – You will be taunted

House – Your plans will bring success

Island – You are lonely

Jug – Inconveniences

Keys – Leave others their secrets

Ladder – You will be promoted

Lantern – Something will come to light

Ladder, broken – Make quicker decisions

Lips – sensual hours await

Lion – you will find friends

Lizard – A great ill will quickly clear

Marten (Marder – the weasel looking devilish creature in the Alps that likes to sneak into your engine and bite through all the cables and hoses and anything else rubbery (like brake lines!)) – protect yourself from thieves

Mask – show your true face

Messenger – a letter with important news will arrive

Moon – Honor awaits you

Mound – Success demands lots of work

Mushroom – You will be lucky in love

Nail – Better times are coming

Nest with eggs or birds – A happy home life awaits you

Oven – wealth is on the horizon

Owl – protect yourself from a horrible environment

Ox – you will win over powerful friends

Palms – a distant trip in a foreign land is on the horizon

Palm Trees – A long held dream will be fulfilled

Parrot – you talk too much

Pig – Lucky in play

Pipe – Careful! Danger ahead

Pistol – You will be disappointed in love

Plane – Much success in open competitions

Plate – You can be generous

Plow – You must work harder

Porcupine – Someone is envious of you

Pulpit – You are self-opinionated

Rhino – that which you pursued will be yours

Rocking chair – Make a decision

Rocks – A lot of work awaits you

Rose – joyful times are coming your way

Ruins – save up for the future

Sailboat – Good developments in your job

Saw – A decisive change is coming

Scale – plan ahead and you will be successful

Scissors – An important decision awaits

Sickle – Do not sneer at the small joys of life

Sheep – someone will try to use you

Shell – great responsibility awaits you

Shoe– You have a lot to do

Shuffle – earning a living is hard work

Sled – Use your connections

Slippers – You will soon marry

Sloth – All your dreams will come true

Snake –Someone is envious of your success

Spear – Someone wants to fight with you

Spider – Luck is dangle on a silk thread

Spike – Your dreams will come through

Sponge – cleanse your soul

Spoon – People are talking about you

Statue – You overestimate yourself

Steps – New challenges await you

Stick – Your life will change

Stork – A trip is on the horizon

Surfer – you will weather stormy waters

Sword – A decisive change

Table – You will be invited to a party

Teacup – You will receive a visit from a lady

Tent – an adventure awaits you

Tower – Believe in yourself

Train – Departure of a friend

Tree – your abilities will grow

Triangle – financial improvement

Trumpet – good prospects for the future

Tunnel – You will recuperate from a terrible shock

Umbrella – Avoid troubles

Urn – Don’t hang on the past

Vase – You will be popular

Vice – Be content, with what you have

Wall – Your perseverance pays off

Watch – time is money

Wedding ring – You will soon marry – or have an affair!

Weights – Success in career

Wheel – Big changes

Whip – You need a strong hand (must have been penned by Nietzsche)

Wreath – Amends in circle of friends

Wrench – hold tight to your good fortune

Zeppelin – Everything will work out

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Walking a Mile in Another’s Shoes – Tis the Season for Less is More

Be not afraid of being called unfashionable.
Adolf Loos (Austrian architect, designer and critic)

Into extreme sports? Suffering temporary insanity? Dodging dish duty? Or simply frugal-minded? Whatever possessed you to head out on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving to be one of the first 50 shoppers to land the two-for-one Elf-on-a-Shelf giveaway, it was surely only your primal will to survive that returned you home Friday evening, safe and sound after a day of elbowing through phubbing teenagers in the Yankee Candles shop and umbrella-yielding Omas in the Piercing Pagoda.

Tis the season, eh? Was it worth it?

I admit the frenzied excitement that fills the air when the colorful flyers flood the mailbox the Wednesday before Black Friday. Perhaps it evokes memories of the days when the Sunday funnies came in color and you anxiously awaited those. But did you ever stop to ask yourself why? And why aren’t things lasting like they did back in the day? That big TV set that your family had from the time you were allowed to watch cartoons until the time you graduated high school; the microwave oven that was so enormous you could crawl in and hide and also probably gave you and Fido a nearly lethal dose of radiation every time you nuked some popcorn but the dang thing just wouldn’t quit. Things lasted FOREVER – just like Auntie Emm’s indestructible fruit cake.

And now?

They don’t.


And the reason? Many. But one is discussed in this story from March of this year on NPR’s All Things Considered entitled In Trendy World Of Fast Fashion, Styles Aren’t Made to Last.

And that’s kinda sad. And it’s what I thought about on Black Friday here in Austria, when I wasn’t engaging in self-defense leg kicks in the Home Décor department of my local Target trying to hold on to the last Threshold Decorative Stag Head Wall Sculpture (maybe I would have been tempted, had Austria had a Target and the Stag came in a wider variety of colors, like hot pink, for instance). No. I wasn’t there so if you come over to my place looking for Mr. Stag decked out in tinsel you’re bound to be disappointed.

Yildiz Shoe Service Shop

Yildiz Shoe Service Shop


Black Friday I was picking up my boots from the shoemaker, Mr. Yildiz, who was explaining to me all the steps he took to put my favorite, very-worn Italian leather boots back into fine beautiful working (walking) condition. Better than new.

Who is this hero capable of breathing old leather back to life?

Mr. Yildiz  came to Austria from Turkey almost 20 years ago. At the time, he hardly spoke a word of German.

Mr. Yildiz from Yildiz Shoe Service

Mr. Yildiz from Yildiz Shoe Service

He started an apprenticeship in an orthopedic shoemaker shop in the 8th district where they made orthopedic inserts for shoes in addition to doing normal repairs.  The start was difficult requiring him to take home his instruction booklets at night and translate them word for word to get by. But after a three-year apprenticeship he could call himself a shoemaker and continued working in the shop for over 15 years. When the shop’s owner retired well into his 70s, a family business over a century old came to an end and Mr. Yildiz decided to strike it out on his own.

Made to Order Shoes at Yildiz Shoe Service Shop in Vienna

Made to Order Shoes at Yildiz Shoe Service Shop in Vienna

Lucky for me, Mr. Yildiz found himself a shop in the 2nd district and now for over two years, he has been sewing, stretching, patching and polishing life into shoes in his own place since.


I talked to the expert shoemaker about his skills and the craft and about shoes in general. Mr. Yidliz laments that it is often difficult to find a really fine pair of well-made shoes nowadays. Maybe the mass produced shoes are cheaper and more trendy than their hand-made competition but Mr. Yildiz’s doesn’t understand why anyone would want to be constantly replacing their shoes after a month or two. Because let’s face it, nothing fits you as well as an old pair of shoes that have walked with you for weeks, months — if you’re lucky – years. And every time your wee little toe presses the leather on the side and your heel against the back, and your arch against the sole, you are indenting that shoe to fit exactly your foot and no one else’s.

Made to Order Belts at Yildiz Shoe Service Shop in Vienna

Made to Order Belts at Yildiz Shoe Service Shop in Vienna

No one else’s shoe and no new shoe will fit you quite like the one you’ve worn.

So maybe rather than snatching up the next bargain this holiday season, we should go for less presents but higher quality – giving things that will last.

 And if you live in Vienna, I highly recommend the services of Mr Yildiz, who gave me permission to put his information on my blog (he has no website of his own), so here it is:

Yildiz Shoe Service, Gredlerstraße 2, 1020 Vienna (just walk over the Marienbrücke bridge from Schwedenplatz or take the no. 2 tram one stop to Marienbrücke).

Opening Times:

Mr. Yildiz in his Shoe Repair Shop in Vienna

Mr. Yildiz in his Shoe Repair Shop in Vienna

Mon – Thurs: 7:30  – 18h
Fri: 7:30 – 12.30 pm and 14.30 – 18h
Sat: 7.30  – noon
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