Jacob's mother, Marcia, arrived for a two week visit last Saturday, and I can tell you - she is one happy momma. We are pretty happy kids as well. We have already packed in an incredible amount of sight-seeing and eating into the short time she has been here, and somehow the conversation always swings back to this question: "Isn't Vienna great?!".
It is especially meaningful for us to experience Vienna through Marcia's eyes and vice-versa. Jacob's parents (and mine too for that matter) supported us all the way through the thinking/praying/planning process of moving to Vienna - even though it was an unfamiliar place for them and meant we would be settling far away from California. Now, after continuing to support us through all of the ups and downs of the move, Marcia can finally meet the Vienna that we fell in love with.
On the flip-side, as we approach nearly a year of living in Vienna, the "tourist-vision" has worn off. We no longer look at places through the lens of a tourist: on vacation, a little disoriented, and surrounded by new and unfamiliar sights. Now when we walk the city, a network of correlations, petty annoyances, memories, and to-do lists crowd in and color our perspective. In my opinion neither perspective is bad in itself, but my ideal is a good mix of familiarity (to keep from getting burned out) and strangeness (to keep from getting stuck in a rut).
Marcia helps us to see the city through fresh eyes even as we give her the "insider's tour" of Vienna. We discussed impressions of the city over cake and coffee today at Demel (the famous patisserie to the former imperial court), and began to make a list of things we like most about the city.
Now before I get to the list, I have to throw in a substantial caveat: It's no secret that I love living in Vienna. Every now and then I am hit by a wave of gratitude and perspective for where I am. Jacob and I have not forgotten the pain and frustration of waiting to move. We spent two years praying, searching for opportunities, and dreaming of a future in a place we barely knew. The one thing we did know? Vienna was calling, and God was telling us to go. It was not an easy time. I have said before how blown away I am by God's provision. We quickly made dear friends, found a wonderful church, work, an apartment...I've said it so many times I must sound like a broken record. The truth is, I'm not "over it" yet, I'm still in awe of God's goodness.
I LOVE not needing a car. It's true that most cities have at least some public transportation available, but Vienna is on another level. The public transport is so good that you can be nearly anywhere within the city in under 40 minutes. My commute is 30 minutes total, 20 of which is spent walking. I can walk to all of my shopping places, and be in the heart of downtown Vienna in less than a 10 minute walk. Added bonus - public transport is quite cheap here compared to many areas of Europe. Buying a Jahreskarte (year card that allows you full access to public transport in Vienna proper) for €365 certainly beats paying for each ride on the London Tube. Very occasionally I miss the conveniences of a car, but I honestly think that should we move somewhere where a car was necessary again, I would miss walking everywhere quite a bit.
2. Living Outside
I have always wanted to live in a city, and as far as cities go, Vienna is a pretty ideal one. It's small enough to feel intimate and manageable, but big enough that we are still discovering new areas, streets, and pretty courtyards. As the weather has warmed the city has sprung back to life. The cafes have set up their outdoors terraces, and groups of people loiter in the city squares long after sunset chatting and drinking beer. Festivals and events pop up on virtually every corner (or so it seems), as if all anyone is looking for is yet another reason to lounge around outside.
San Diego is rightfully famous for it's impeccable weather - a fact that I miss in the dead of an Austrian winter when I haven't seen sun in two weeks. But the flip-side of having imperfect weather is that you are all the more grateful for sun and warmth when you do have it. No one wants to waste what may be the first perfect day in weeks, so no one does.
On that note...
Having never lived in a city before, I had never before appreciated the value of a good park. Granted there were parks in the suburbs, but those tended to be populated by the homeless and pot-head kids hiding from their parents. Parks in Vienna are wonderful. In Vienna, you don't just walk through a park. You meander through, enjoy the sites, find a sunny spot, then flop down on the ground and take a nap. Or play lawn games. Or sit and chat with friends while drinking beer (you can drink in public here - it's awesome). Parks are well-kept (I am amazed at how large the city's flower budget must be...they have replanted flower beds three times since spring) and well used.
4. A Small Refrigerator
"Everything in America is bigger", the old cliché goes. And while that may not be true across the board, when you compare our refrigerator with the one we had in the States...it is undeniably true. Our apartment came equipped with a half-size refrigerator, the size college kids put in their dorm rooms. That fact that our apartment came equipped with a kitchen at all was a blessing - in Austria kitchens are considered "furniture" and are often moved out right along with the couch.
While at first Jacob and I worried whether the tiny refrigerator would suffice, upon falling into the rhythm of European life, our fears were quickly put to rest. Europeans tend to grocery shop for a couple of days at a time, rather than the American habit of stockpiling for the week. It makes sense in America - often you have to drive to the grocery store, which can take up a ton of time out of your post-work routine. Here however, with a grocery store a stone's throw from our apartment, realizing "shoot, I forgot the milk", isn't such a big deal.
5. Church bells
There are at least three churches within a short walk from our apartment, among them being Karlskirche, one of the most famous churches in Vienna. On Sunday morning, Christmas, Easter, and any given Catholic holiday, the church bells will ring in a glorious cheerful cacophony. I love quiet Sunday mornings when I can drink a cup of coffee and listen to the church bells calling the people to worship. I love Christmas morning when the church bells ring in a seemingly endless announcement of Christ's birth. I know the angels are singing along with the bells, and I will never grow tired of hearing them.