The Apartment Saga

Friends, I am happy to announce that the wait is over. 

Apartment Garden

Finding an apartment has been a challenging process, but one in which we have seen God prove to be just as faithful as ever. 

First, a bit of background: in Austria, people do not move often. The concept of hopping from apartment to apartment each year (as we do in America) is a novel one. Sure, according to Austrian lease law you could move out after 15 months, but doing so would only incur a boatload of frustration and unnecessary expenses. Whereas many in America rely on Craigslist to find available properties, then contact the landlord directly, in Austria everything is done through the moderation of real estate agents. 

Secondly, in Austria, renting is a viable long term option. In America most people rent with the intention of one day owning their own house. Here however, there are so many laws in place to protect the renter (and their finances) that renting is a common life long commitment. If a family has a comfortable apartment in the city with a park nearby (there is always a park nearby), why buy a house? That family may very well stay there for the next 30 years. 

Those things being said, our finding an apartment is not about where we will live for the next year, it is about where we will live for the next 5-10 years (should we choose to stay there that long). Thinking "5 years" rather than "1 year" really changes your perspective when you are looking for a place to live - and frankly, makes the whole process all the more challenging. 

In the back of our minds we had a running tally of needs and wants. 

Need:
Two bedroom, easy access to public transportation, affordable.

Want:
Peaceful neighborhood, walking distance from downtown, classic Viennese style building, attractive building entrance sans graffiti, located in the 4th district, nice bathroom, balcony, fireplace, classic style herringbone parquet flooring, built-in cabinetry, washing machine, big windows, top floor, two level "Maisonette" apartment with bedrooms upstairs, mix of classic (my preference) and modern (Jacob's preference) styles, central heating, pets allowed.

A building entrance kind of like this...

A building entrance kind of like this...

Clearly we wanted a lot, though we were not expecting to find a place (that we could afford) that met our every desire. So we searched, discussed, prayed, and probably drove our poor real estate agent nuts as we turned down place after place after place. It was very discouraging. Just as we were starting to think we should lower our expectations, our agent invited us to see an apartment that, in my opinion, did not sound particularly thrilling. 

I was wrong. The moment we walked in we had that distinct feeling of home for the first time. I had butterflies in my stomach. We made an offer, and as you know, held our breaths for a dramatic two weeks. We began to expect that the offer would fall through, and our agent began scheduling appointments to look at other apartments.

No one would respond. All calls went to voicemail, all emails were ignored. One person even told our agent a flat out "NO" when requesting to see their property. Odd. This was supposed to be a contingency plan. Why would all the doors be closing for our second-choice apartments? Then she got the phone call we had been waiting for:

"Yes." 

Our offer had been accepted with a 5 year rental period. As of yesterday afternoon, the contract has been signed. On Monday we will have the keys. 

We have an apartment!

Jacob and I have been praying about our apartment for months. We knew it would be clear to us as soon as we found "the one". But what continues to astound me is how incredibly God went above and beyond our expectations. He could have placed us in a shack under the train tracks and that would have been fine - God's provision would have been perfect and just what we needed. 

But that isn't what He had for us.   

Panorama

Friends, we got everything we dreamed of and more. I got my parquet flooring and Jacob got not one but two balconies. I didn't just get big windows, I got an entire wall of windows with a view of the dome of one of our favorite churches. The apartment comes with built-in cabinetry, a washing machine, air conditioning, and central heating, all of which is uncommon in an Austrian apartment. That picture of a building entrance above? As you may have guessed, that's ours. The apartment is located in our all time favorite area of Vienna, in a gorgeous, peaceful neighborhood, a 3 minute walk from public transportation and a 6 minute walk from downtown. We can get a dog.  

View
Kitchen
Stairway

In the end the time spent waiting for an answer was a mercy in itself. We knew immediately that we wanted this apartment, but the way in which the Lord provided made it all the more clear that it was a gift from Him. And that makes us all the more excited. 


The Great Wall of Austria

And you thought the only great wall was in China, didn't you? Well, technically, you are right, because this is a different kind of wall. Located an hour outside of Vienna, the Hohe Wand (High Wall), a 1132 meter (3714 foot) wall of rock awaits, luring in intrepid and underprepared hikers. 

The High Wall

But I will come back to that, because I know you have a pressing question on your mind: 

What is happening with the apartment?! 

Well, that's a complicated story, filled with more surprise twists than a cheap mystery novel. We waited for a week to hear a response regarding our offer - an unusually long time to wait, and a situation that has been driving our real estate agent nuts. First the landlord was on holiday in Tuscany, then he was out hunting, then he asked for an extension to consider our offer (because he had used up all the time being a man of leisure). Then he accepted our offer, but since the building is co-owned by a board, he needed to get approval from the co-owners as well. That all was going great until one lady got the bright idea to suggest turning the apartment into a penthouse next year, severely restricting our rental period. SO - we will have final word on the board's decision today, at which point we will decide whether we still want the apartment. 

I will keep you posted, but in the meantime, thank you for your prayers as the saga continues!

Back to the Great Wall. 

On Saturday morning Jacob and I thought to ourselves, "Gee, a hike sounds nice," and shared our idea with Klaus, our host. Rather than receiving directions on the best hike to take and means to get there, Klaus thought for a minute and said, "Ok, we leave in an hour." Bear in mind that Klaus is not only an inveterate hiker, but also an Austrian - the mountains are in his blood. Klaus has hiked Mt. Kilimanjaro, and likes to go on 12 hour hikes and 2 hour runs on a regular basis. I questioned whether my definition of a "hike" was more in keeping with his definition of a pleasant stroll. 

We would find out soon enough. 

We left the city and soon found ourselves in the foothills of the mountains, driving through picturesque villages dotting the folds of the valleys. 

Village

We parked near a trailhead, pulled on our gear, and set out on our hike. 

That lasted all of five minutes. Klaus self-admittedly tends to get confused in the Hohe Wand area, and we had started on the wrong trail. The maps and GPS were consulted, after which it was decided that if we just went straight up the mountain, there was no way we could miss the trail that ran horizontal. We bushwhacked our way uphill for about 30 minutes, stopping to snack on boysenberries and pick our way through patches of thorns.

As Klaus predicted, we eventually ran into the proper trail. After a brief respite of walking on flat ground, the trail turned sharply upwards once more and we began to ascend the wall.

It is not a good place for those who are afraid of heights.

hikeweb2.jpg

And it was steep. That rocky outcropping on the right side? That was what we were ascending. At this point a heavy fog was fast rolling in and beginning to obscure our view. 

The last 1/3 of the trail was so steep that walking was no longer an option. Metal ladders had been bolted into rock face to literally pull yourself up the wall. In other areas cables were bolted into the cliff to hang on to as you walked. Losing your balance here would mean a good roll down the mountain. 

Ladder

We crested the summit of the cliff just as the fog hit us in full force and the rain began. 

Fog

That divot to the right of the tree? That was our trail. On the top of the mountain was a restaurant where we stopped for well deserved mushroom and potato soup. 

Mountain Restaurant

Thankfully Klaus had outfitted us with rain jackets, but with the trail down growing more slippery by the moment, my Converse shoes (not hiking shoes by any means) didn't stand a chance. The way down, though less steep, was just as harrowing as the way up. Thankfully I only slipped and fell twice - and both times in a nice squishy spot of mud. 

In the end we hiked for over 6 hours, but Jacob and I were proud of ourselves for a job well done. Truth be told, weather and danger included, that hike would have to join the ranks of my top two favorite hikes to date. (The other one being in Switzerland when Jacob and I did a "snow hike" down a mountain with a view of the Matterhorn.) Given the fact that we weren't even in the proper Alps for this hike however, I would imagine there are many more to come.  

Finding A Home In Vienna

The past week has been a great example of what I call the Big Life Decision Cycle: 

Step 1: 
Blissful elation for having taken such a huge step forward in life
Step 2:
Sudden self doubt about whether you made the wrong decision
Step 3:
Repeat Steps 1 and 2 several times
Step 4:
Calm down and realize that everything will be ok

Truth be told, the emotional ups and downs of our move could have been much much worse than they were. After two years of dreaming of a place we had only visited for two days, it would have been the easiest outcome for us to arrive and realize like a deflating balloon that the Vienna of our dreams had been nothing more than a figment of our imagination. 

Volksgarten

Think about it - that outcome would have made the most sense, wouldn't it? Instead we found the opposite. Vienna wasn't a disappointment at all - it was a wonder. The city is more beautiful and exciting than we had remembered, and as we have begun to learn the streets and forge fledgling friendships we have only fallen more in love with our new home. 

The past week has felt so long that we find ourselves beginning to wonder why things are happening more quickly. Then, with a shock, we realize, "Oh...right. Last Thursday we were sitting despondently in a Turkish airport. Wait...that was Thursday?". In light of that, we have actually done quite a lot. 

This past week has been a string of one appointment after the last, viewing apartments all across the city. 

We had learned early on that the process of finding an apartment in Austria is far different than in America. In America, renting an apartment is typically left to Craigslist hunts, or visiting the offices of giant corporate apartment franchises. In Austria, renting an apartment all but mandates the use of a real estate agent. In our case, two real estate agents. That agent arranges appointments to view apartments, deals with the landlord and their real estate agent, and then collects the finders fee should you sign the paperwork. 

Apartment

Having seen a couple of apartments, Jacob and I quickly narrowed down our preferences to a particular style and city district, all while learning the nuances of conducting business in Austria. With real estate agents, we had been advised, state your opinion strongly, feel free to dispense with the small talk, and don't worry about upsetting anyone's feelings. Much to our relief, neither of the agents we have worked with have required throwing our weight around to achieve results.

On Friday we were beginning to feel the strain. We had seen 8 apartments, and were finding everything was falling just shy of the mark - either we didn't love the neighborhood, or the apartment was strangely designed, or the kitchen cabinets were missing handles...strange. All of the apartments that seemed the most promising had been snatched up too quickly for us to even have the chance to view them. 

Feeling dejected after a promising apartment fell through on Friday, we walked over to our last appointment. We arrived at the door of the building and I immediately perked up. This was my dream neighborhood: close to downtown (a five minute walk from the city center) with gorgeous, stately buildings (we could see two embassies from where we stood). If the apartment itself held a candle to the promise the building offered, we were sold. 

Apartment Garden

Suffice to say the apartment did not disappoint, and we put in an offer to rent. Until we find out whether our offer is accepted (we should know sometime this week), we are doing our best to curb our hopes and just take comfort in knowing that the type of apartment we are looking for does exist. Once it is confirmed the apartment is ours, I promise to share photos upon photos to your heart's content. 

A couple of nights ago I was reminded for the millionth time just how special this city is. It was a lovely warm evening, late enough that all of the tourists had cleared out of the city center to their hotels and bars. Walking through one of my favorite parks, we passed a small group of people sitting on the steps of a museum. Music played softly from a stereo while a couple danced a tango in the lamplight. 

I think Vienna is already beginning to feel like home.