Ice Skating on the Danube River

Amid the humdrum weeks after Christmas, when winter starts to really soak into your bones and make you long for Spring, something special has been happening in Vienna. 

This January has been the coldest in Austria in 11 years; the thermostat sticking stubbornly around 15 degrees Fahrenheit for weeks on end. This also means that, for the first time in 11 years, the Danube River has frozen over. 

I first noticed it one day at work, after a foggy night had frozen onto the trees of the park next to my office, covering every branch and twig in ice that glittered in the sun. 

As I looked out the window towards the river, I saw a little black stick figure walking in the middle of the Danube. I did a second-take. Is that a person?!

Now those of you from ghastly-cold places like Michigan and Siberia are probably rolling your eyes. I am sure this is hardly exciting for you.  Well for me, and most others from moderate-weather places, it's mind blowing. Sure, I have experienced blizzards and ice-storms before, but those are typically weather flukes that strike, paralyze the world for a couple days, then melt back into respectable moderation. The type of sustained cold required to freeze over a massive river is a new experience for me. 

And I'm not the only one who thinks it's cool. CNN even produced a short segment on the freezing of the Danube, with my office building visible in the background.

Today Jacob and I decided to dust off my languishing ice skates and spend some time on the river. I had never walked out on a frozen river (or lake) before, much less had so grand an ice skating rink available to me. 

I was a bit nervous to see large patches of running water as we got off the bridge, until I realized that the heat generated by the trains was probably keeping the ice from forming in that particular area. As long as we stayed away from the bridge (and near the other people who were safely on top of the ice - not under it), we would be fine. 

One of the coolest parts of being on the river was seeing the variations in how the ice had formed. In some areas the ice was a matte gray, giving way to steaks of deeper blue. In other areas it was clear that the ice had melted and broken away, then re-froze.  

The most stunning sight was how the ice had formed, broken, and re-formed around permanent fixtures in the water, like this pedestrian draw-bridge. 

Also, have you missed our faces? Well, here you go. You'll be seeing a lot more of them as we start posting pictures and stories from our upcoming trip to Taiwan!

Ball Season in Vienna

Once again I find myself needing to recap months at a time on this blog, only to ask myself: But what did I even do in the last months? As it turns out (and I didn't realize until now), the answer is: A LOT. 

So let's dive in, starting with the earliest first: 

The IAEA Ball

Vienna is one of the few places I know of that still has a strong culture of balls. The official start date of Ball Season takes place sometime in November, and reaches it's peak in January and February. According to the Vienna city website, over 450 balls take place each year. Frankly, that is astounding to me. How, when the rest of the world casually swapped balls for gala fundraisers (on one side of the economic spectrum) and house parties (on the other side of the economic spectrum), did Vienna manage to hold on?

The balls tend to be split by networks or profession. For example, you have one ball for lawyers, another for bakers, another for Coffee House Owners (no kidding), one for the IAEA section of the United Nations, one for people who like hiphop, etc. The balls vary in size and formality, but if you look around, you are bound to find one that you are interested in. 

Rumor is that there are tours groups (typically from Asia) that offer ball seasons to young women who want to feel like a European princess for a winter. The ladies are put up in hotels with chaperones, given dancing lessons, taken shopping for gowns, and provided with well groomed young men to be their prince for the evening - and every evening, of every ball they attend. Google has yet to confirm this for me.  

We attended the IAEA Ball, one of the largest in Vienna, with a small group of good friends. Finding a ball gown was easy enough for me, though a tuxedo for Jacob was another story. The dress codes are strict - men must wear a tuxedo and bowtie, or will be barred entry. Bowties are sold at the door at appropriately exorbitant prices for anyone left in a pinch. Another option (as it is a United Nations organization hosting the ball) is to wear your "national dress". We considered seeing if Jacob could get away in a pair of Levi's as "American national dress", but thankfully a friend came through with a borrowed tuxedo that was exactly Jacob's size.

Prior to the ball start we met for coffee and cake at Landtmann's, a classic Viennese cafe close to the Hofburg Palace, where the event was held. I may be sentimental about my family's history in Vienna (I have pictures of my Grandparents dancing at the famous Vienna Opera Ball in the 1970's), but sitting in that cafe made me feel like I was connected to ball-goers spanning across hundreds of years, all meeting in this particular cafe for a glass of Sekt before going to dance the night away.

And the truth is, in many ways, it seemed like the balls hadn't changed a bit since then - except that, back then, everyone would have known how to dance. And no one would have been taking cell-phone selfies. Our group had met the week previously to practice our two steps, rhumbas, and viennese waltzes, but unfortunately one evening of instruction was not enough for Jacob and I to counteract a lifetime of ignorance. (Although we tried, and had lots of fun)

The ball itself was made up of several halls, each offering different types of music. In the main hall an orchestra played the classic Viennese waltzes and ballrooms dances, while adjunct rooms offered Jazz, Latin, an IAEA talent show (which I avoided), a Beatles cover band, and a "silent disco". The silent disco (relatively new to the ball repertoire I am sure), consisted of people putting on headphones and self consciously dancing to the music no one else can hear. If someone understands the appeal, feel free to explain it to me. 

Jacob and I stuck mostly to the Beatles cover-band and main hall, though our dancing skills were far from impressive. Thankfully, however, with so many cultures and walks-of-life represented, there was by no means an expectation that everyone would be an expert at the dizzying Viennese waltz. A galant and practiced dancer from our group did ask me to dance once or twice, which provided me with the distinct sensation of, "Oh. So that is how this dance is supposed to go". That is, I imagine, the advantage of wearing a long and flowing skirt to a ball - no one can see that your feet are just trying to keep up.

Aside from the dancing, which many people were very serious about, the main pastime of the ball was people-watching. The parade of gowns and national dress was truly spectacular; an activity that could have easily occupied you for the entire evening. 

Our group had reserved a table away from the main area of the ball so that we had a quiet place to retreat to whenever we wanted to rest our feet and escape the crowds for a few minutes. I was surprised when I picked up the menu of food that could be ordered to your table. The menu was short and did not contain the types of foods I would have imagined at a ball. Where was the beef tartare and caviar? Why was there goulash and sausage with bread on the menu? 

Come to find out, sausage with bread (with champagne of course) IS traditional ball food. This is, in fact, the true Viennese way to eat at a ball - and I love it. There was something so refreshing about pairing the opulence of a ball with the same no-nonsense food you would order from a Wurstelstand on the street. 

Scattered throughout the evening were ceremonies, such as the entrance of the debutantes, all dressed in white, to dance a Viennese waltz. At midnight everyone is taught to dance a quadrille by the Master of Ceremonies. Our group had stationed ourselves in the main hall well before midnight for this particular dance - only to find that a 70's cover band with afro wigs was performing past their time slot. At 20 past midnight we left the main hall during "It's Raining Men", and the quadrille began 15 minutes later. 

Jacob and I lasted until roughly 1:30 am before we decided to call it a night. By our party standards, 1:30 definitely qualified as dancing the night away. 

By the way, you can read more about the balls here - it is really fascinating: Vienna Ball Season. (And more here if you are really interested.) 

A Year of Vienna in Review

Dear world, I have not forgotten about you! I know I have been mysteriously absent the past several months - a result of a season so busy that it left Jacob and I trying to catch our breath and wondering how to slow down. 

The past few months have had their fair share of adventure - a hike through rain and snow up to an alpine lake, a whirlwind weekend in Tuscany to visit dear friends, an unexpected trip to India...

That's right, I said India. I spent Thanksgiving week there on a business trip, and as you can imagine, it was quite the memorable experience. I have a blog post on India nearly ready to go, so you can expect that coming your way soon. 

Our busyness forced us to reprioritize our schedules and lives, as we came dangerously close to burning out this past autumn. I have made the decision to stop actively pursuing my photography side-business, opting to be more intentional about taking time to rest instead. Jacob and I have taken up Thai Boxing as a sport, and take classes at a gym several times a week - a routine that is as good for our mental and emotional happiness as it is for our bodies. Then of course there is work, church, friends, German class, and all the little odds and ends that add up to a full and abundant life. 

And friends, we DO have an abundant life. It is not easy, but for all of its hardships we are still blessed beyond belief. Life is only getting more exciting and full of possibility as we grow, learn, and draw closer into the heart of our God and Father. 

I recently spent some time scrolling through pictures from 2015 - little snapshots taken here and there that never made it to Facebook or any wider audience. A handful you may have seen before - snagged to supplement a blog post, but most are just from little moments from day to day life and friends. Here, in chronological order (as best as I can remember), is our 2015 in review:

A Year of Vienna in Review


Things I Love About Living In Vienna

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. 

1. Walking 

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. 

Jacob and I lugging home potted trees on the subway. 

Jacob and I lugging home potted trees on the subway. 

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...

3. Parks

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. 


Easter in Vienna

It has been a long time since I lived anywhere that experienced a proper spring. Winter felt like a slow marching eternity of grey days, and we learned to appreciate spots of direct sunlight wherever we could find them. Spring and winter battled it out in early April, throwing fits of rain, sleet, snow, and sunshine, all within an hour. Then, one day as I was walking through the park to work, TA DA! A tree that had been bare the day before had exploded into life overnight. 

Spring Trees

Let's back up a bit though. On April 1st, Jacob and I picked up these two from the airport. 

They're my parents, which you probably had already figured it out.

They're my parents, which you probably had already figured it out.

They were here to visit us for the first time since we had moved here...8 months ago. (8 MONTHS AGO?! Wow. I hadn't even realized.) We were going to spend two lovely weeks together, sightseeing, catching up, and taking a road trip to Slovenia. 

But first, there was Easter. I won't claim that Austrian Easter traditions are terribly different from American traditions (unlike their Christmas celebrations), however they do go slightly crazy about eggs.  

I grew up decorating carefully hollowed out egg shells with paints and dyes before my mother arranged them as a table centerpiece for the Easter dinner. Here, the eggs are hung on little trees made of pussywillow branches bundled together. It would seem however, that many people choose to purchase their decorated eggs at Easter egg emporiums such as this: 

Easter Market

Easter Markets are set up in the public squares, this one in particular showcasing hundreds upon thousands of delicately hollowed out, hand decorated eggs. It took some tenacity to pick your way through the egg maze, knowing that one misplaced step or swing of your handbag could send a whole tray of eggs crunching into pieces (we did see it happen to someone - poor lady). I kept wondering what they did with all of the raw egg leftovers...world's largest omelette? 

Easter Egg

Another Austrian Easter tradition is to consume large quantities of dyed, hardboiled eggs. One can purchase the eggs from the grocery store pre-dyed and pre-boiled, then before eating them, you play a game where you put two eggs in a cage fight, with the losing egg being sacrificed and eaten. (I.e: You hit them together and the one that cracks first is the losing egg). 

Then of course, there are the sweets. Demel's, the epitome of Viennese confectionary, is always a wonderland akin to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, but at Easter it is especially true. The shelves were laden with intricately decorated molded chocolate bunnies and sheep, and large delicate hollow eggs made of meringue piped into swirling patterns. 

Meringue Egg
Demels

Finally, there is the music. Of course, Vienna, as the "city of music", always has something special to offer, even if it is simply listening to the church bells ring on Sunday mornings. On our way out of St. Stephan's cathedral we saw a sign for the Easter Monday mass, where they would be performing one of Mozart's masses at 11:00 am. On Monday we returned to St. Stephan's, surprised at how many people were present and the music well underway though we were only a couple of minutes late. Turns out that the mass had started at 10:15. Whoops. It was worth the effort regardless, if only for the opportunity to hear God's praises sung by a full orchestra and choir. 

Our second weekend together my parents, Jacob, and I had planned to take a road trip down through Austria to Slovenia where we would visit Lake Bled and Ljubljana. You know how you often see those articles touting Prague or Dubrovnik as "the undiscovered gem of Europe", although they are now far from "undiscovered"? Mark my words friends, Slovenia truly is the next "undiscovered gem of Europe". The country is breathtakingly beautiful, the roads and towns very well maintained, the people are wonderfully friendly, the food is delicious, and the costs very reasonable. In fact, it was all so fairytale-like, I imagine Slovenia could have been the real inspiration behind Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel. 

Let me give you a sneak peak of what I mean: 

Lake Bled 1
Slovenia 1
Slovenia-11.jpg

Feel like visiting yet? 

More to come on Slovenia!

Christmas In Vienna

As much as we crossed our fingers and hoped for a White Christmas, we did not get one. We did, however, get a white Boxing Day. 

This about sums up our reaction:

Christmas for us was a whirlwind. It was our first Christmas in Vienna, and our first holiday season away from families and childhood traditions. Just as every cloud has a silver lining, there were things to look forward to even though we would be away from family. This would be our first Christmas with a real tree, with our own decorations, with the ability to pick, choose, and blend our two family's traditions into some of our own. It was also the first Christmas spent together where we weren't wondering how we would fit the gifts we bought each other into suitcases or boxes to move across the world. Our apartment is furnished to the extent that we have everything we need to survive, but still have many things we want, it is easy to get excited over little things like tongs and picture frames. 

[Or vacuum cleaners. I didn't receive a vacuum for Christmas this year, (I did get an immersion blender though! Woohoo! Mine broke and blew a fuse the moment I plugged it in at our apartment.) so I have decided I will simply purchase one myself. In the meantime I have gotten really good at rug-beating, and have developed greater respect for the bicep strength of Victorian era maids.]

 We purchased our Christmas tree some weeks ago in early-mid December. By many people's standards, we waited a little long to get our tree. As we acquainted ourselves with Viennese traditions, we learned a shocking truth: Austrians don't typically decorate their Christmas tree until Christmas Eve.  

Here's a general break down of Austrian Christmas tradition: The Advent Sundays are highly observed, and Advent wreaths seen everywhere. In early December St. Nicholas comes around to deliver sweets and presents to the good children, while his counterpart, the demonic Krampus, goes around beating the bad children with sticks and dragging them to his lair. Many areas of Austria have re-enactments of St. Nicholas and Krampus, complete with drunk people beating each other with sticks. Just a little Christmas spirit!

In the meantime the winter markets are in full swing, with Gluhwein (mulled wine), Krapfen (filled donuts), and Maroni (roasted chestnuts) consumed by the kilo. On Christmas Eve, or perhaps a couple days before, a family will purchase their Christmas tree. It remains erected in the living room, undecorated, until the ceremonial lighting hour on Christmas Eve. 

When the time comes, the children are ushered out of the house, and the "Christkind" or Christ-child, (represented by a cherubic little blonde girl with angel wings), comes to the house to decorate the tree and deliver presents. When the children return, voila! The house is decorated, the tree is lit, and the presents sit under the tree. Madness ensues. Children unwrap their presents, the parents look on in contentment, and perhaps head off to a Midnight Mass later in the night. 

Christmas day is devoted to eating.

Sounds like a lovely Christmas, doesn't it? There were a few things, however, that our American-selves could not give up. For me, the best part of Christmas is the anticipation: baking cookies, decorating the tree, slowly watching the pile of presents grow as you approach Christmas morning, etc. So Jacob and I proved our ex-pat-ness and set out to buy a tree way before the tree markets had been set up. 

We had heard they were sold at a hardware store called OBI, nearly identical in layout and branding to Home Depot. It was just a short tram way and walk away, Jacob said. So one cold night we hopped on the tram, got off at our stop, and began walking - down the huge hill, under the freeway, through a poorly lit industrial area with no sidewalks - this was getting sketchy. Then! There it was! By this point we were committed. There was no way we would go home without a Christmas Tree. 

Jacob's cheekbones are looking quite chiseled. 

Jacob's cheekbones are looking quite chiseled. 

Successful in attaining a nice tree, we hauled it back under the freeway, up the hill, and onto a tram as we deflected stares from locals. If only they understood the joy of having a Christmas tree weeks in advance. 

Weeks later we began to see the Christmas tree markets appear in the public squares. Sure, that was more convenient, but what amazed us was the price. Some of the tallest trees, (and granted they were tall), cost over 300 Euro! In the grand scheme of things that may not be expensive for a gorgeous 10-foot tree, but it is pricey when you purchase the tree on Christmas Eve only to pile it up here on Boxing Day: 

All of that, I know, doesn't actually tell you what we did on Christmas, and why it was a whirlwind. If there was one tradition we would be keeping, it was Jacob's morning Christmas rolls (like Monkey Bread - coated in butter, sugar, and cinnamon before being baked). Christmas Eve we went to a friend's house to enjoy a traditional Viennese Christmas with them and their children. It was a truly lovely time. Their tree had real candles on it, and ever sparklers lit and fizzing for the grand unveiling of the tree. Fire Extinguisher was close at hand. Afterwards we opened presents and enjoyed a spectacular dinner and good conversation. The next morning Jacob and I baked our Christmas rolls, opened presents, and had a quiet morning together before friends came over for a late lunch. 

Then we made gingerbread houses...which got a little crazy. 

After our lunch and Gingerbread House competition (Kathryn won with her Breaking Bad Gingerbread house-turned meth lab), we adjourned to another friend's house for games. Boxing Day we were on the road again, this time to another friend's house for a Christmas leftover feast. 

As I said - it was a whirlwind, and yet we wouldn't have had it any other way. 

The Da Vienna Code

I just recently finished reading The Da Vinci Code, the semi-controversial conspiracy theory thriller that swept America some nine years ago. It was a fluffy romp of wildly conspiratorial concepts - the "National Treasure" of the Catholic Church. 

What appeals the most however, is the scavenger hunt concept of the story. Who doesn't like a scavenger hunt? I LOVE scavenger hunts. For the past few years I have made a tradition of stealing all of my mother's presents on Christmas Eve and making her go on a scavenger hunt to reclaim them.

(The scavenger hunt is really easy to set up - Choose your hiding place in the house and select one object from that place as the first clue (ie: roll of toilet paper from the bathroom) and hide the clue in another place (ie: the pantry). Then take something from the pantry and hide it somewhere else, taking and placing new clues as you go. When the person does the scavenger hunt they start with an object they have to replace; when they find where it belongs they find the clue to the next location, etc.)   

On Saturday the sun was shining in Vienna so Jacob and I ventured outside for a walk through the first district. As much as we love exploring and walking around the city, it is funny how we can go for weeks without visiting some of our favorite spots in the city center - the gardens, palaces, and grand old shopping streets that attract all of the tourists. This time however, we were headed to our favorite park, the Burggarten. Walking through the park, we came across a large ornate door standing alone on a terrace. A sign on the door displayed a website and advertised an app to download to play the "interactive art installation scavenger hunt". 

For Jacob and I, those are magic words. We love public art installations to begin with, even more so when they are interactive. Combine that with a scavenger hunt? We are instantly sold. Jacob immediately downloaded the app (4Aces) and we read the instructions to begin the hunt. 

The first set of clues brought us to another door outside the Albertina Museum. Once at the door we were given a riddle to solve that revealed the key code which unlocked the door.

4Aces1

The keypad flashed a green light and we heard the click of the door unlocking. Inside the door we found a painting and the next clue. 

4Aces2

The clue led us downstairs to the fountain at the base of the museum, depicting Franz Josef I with six statues flanking the walls on either side of him. The answer to the next question lay in the fountain, which then brought us to another courtyard containing a door and a riddle. 

4Aces3

We weren't the only ones curious about the door, and had to wait patiently as people looked at it and attempted opening the door (in vain). You should have seen the look on people's faces as we punched in a key code and the door clicked open for us.

The clue from the door led us to another fountain on the backside of the Spanish Riding School, which contained yet another clue for our hunt. 

4Aces4

It struck me how many times I had walked past these beautiful fountains and sculptures without stopping to take a long look at them. That, I believe, is the beauty of city scavenger hunts - it combines all the best of history lessons and architectural appreciation into a game that brings a refreshing perspective and context to our surroundings. I would love to come up with historical city-tour scavenger hunts that tourists (and locals!) can do when they visit a new place. Now that would be a city tour I could get behind. 

The clue from the fountain led us to the Hofburg dome, then to the Swiss gate to decipher a name from the paintings at the top of the gate. 

4Aces5

Next was a statue in the Hofburg courtyard...

4Aces6

Before heading away from Hofburg and wrapping up the scavenger hunt back at the Burggarten. 

4Aces7

It is funny how every time Jacob and I walk through this city, we fall in love with it all over again. The city now looks very much like it did two years ago when we first saw it, and we still have to pinch ourselves from time to time that we get to call it home.

Job Hunting

Jacob and I continue to learn that things don't happen in Austria at the same pace as in America. For better or for worse, things in Austria appear to take a bit more time. 

In America you can find an apartment within a day - but granted, you are likely to be moving out of it within a year. In Vienna, the default lease period is 5 years. Knowing you could very well spend the next 5 years in that apartment makes signing the rental papers a weightier decision.  

Job hunting, likewise, is a longer process. Jacob and I have sent out many resumes in the past few months. Oftentimes when we check on the status of the application, we will find that the resumes are still under consideration, even some months after the closing date.  

Thankfully, even while searching for work, God has always provided. Jacob was able to convert his job in the States to a remote position, while I quickly picked up work as a substitute teacher, photographer, and several freelance projects. Even without full time jobs we have managed to stay quite busy. 

One of the applications I submitted was for a copy-writing position working for an international tech company. The company was looking for a native English speaker with creative writing experience and a background in marketing. Basically, a dream job. 

The problem is, however, that cover letters are nearly always boring. How are you supposed to make an impression as a writer when you are tasked with writing a laundry list of self approval?

A friend had recently pointed out the unfortunate slogan of a restaurant we had both frequented: upon receiving the reservation confirmation via email, she noticed the restaurant bore the tagline "Touching People." Hm. That was an unwise marketing decision. Who's up for dinner and a bit of harassment? 

Another friend had also shared a shop sign with me for an electronic cigarette store called "Dampf art" (steam art).  Once again the marketing had gone slightly awry when the company decided their logo would combine the words together as "Dampfart".

That's right: Damp fart. 

image courtesy of the brilliant Kathryn Stewart.

image courtesy of the brilliant Kathryn Stewart.

Appealing. 

All of this ran through my head while staring at my computer screen, wracking my brain for a catchy lead-in. "Oh well", I thought to myself, "what do I have to lose?" I took a deep breath, wrote about the "Touching People" restaurant, and sent off the application without a second glance. 

Maybe I would receive a polite email response in 4 months.  

The following week I received a phone call from an unknown number. 

I called the number back, thinking it may have been a teacher looking for a substitute. A secretary picked up the phone and asked where she could direct my call. 

"I don't know," I said, somewhat lamely.

"Who called you?" the secretary asked. "I have over 150 colleagues."

"Oh. Ok. Who is this?"

The tech company. 

A couple minutes later I received a second call from the company, inviting me in for an interview.

Friends, I cannot over-emphasize how much of a miracle this is. Similarly to the States, having an inside connection is so key that many people will tell you it is a necessary prerequisite to being hired in Vienna.  Receiving an interview solely based on a cover letter and resume response to an online posting? That could have only been God. 

I had the interview the following Monday, where I found out that the "Touching People" anecdote had been such a hit that I had been brought in for the interview on the merit of that alone. 

The following day I received a phone call offering me the job. 

I start this coming Monday! I am so excited and amazed by how perfectly God has provided yet again. Not only is this job squarely within a field I greatly enjoy and thrive in, but it will offer great experience with an impressive company, and flexible hours that allow me to continue my photography and freelance work.

It is a statement we have heard so many times since moving here, it may as well be our mantra: "Wow, you guys move fast". Considering that we have lived in Vienna for barely four months, the level to which we are settled - with a beautiful apartment, a church, good friends, and a great job -  is a far cry from August when we arrived with a couple of suitcases and the hope that we had made the right decision. 

photo.JPG

It only felt appropriate that we should celebrate by having dinner at the restaurant that got me the job - a nice dinner, thankfully harassment free. 


 

Vienna And My Favorite Things

Yesterday marked the one month anniversary of our arrival in Vienna. 

It's been quite the month. In a way it feels like we have been here considerably longer - living here is a bit like being a child again, when each summer felt like a lifetime soaked in sunshine and chlorine. I am trying to revel in the hours that feel like days and weeks that feel like months, knowing that all too soon life will speed up again and I will be wishing it would slow down once more. 

Considering how long it feels like we have been here, it is good to be reminded of how short the time has been in reality. It is funny to hear the perspectives of other Expats who have been in similar circumstances - according to them, Jacob and I are positively blazing through accomplishments.

Settling into a fully functioning apartment within the first month? Check. 
Partially furnished said apartment? Yes.
Mastered public transportation? Sure, it's easy. 
Tracking down job opportunities? Yes!
Making friends and joining a local church? Mmmhmm.
Officially registered as a resident of Vienna? Yup, and it was in and out the Registration Office within 5 minutes.

Apparently all that we have accomplished within this month is practically unheard of - not to mention you usually need to spend a couple hours minimum at the Registration Office (think of it as the Austrian DMV). God has apparently been opening doors for us where most others have just run into walls. And yet, here Jacob and I are, running around like headless chickens, worrying about why things aren't moving along faster. 

So, in the spirit of gratitude, of "smelling the roses" and appreciating the beauty of the here and now, in celebration of our first wildly successful (supposedly) month in Austria, here are some favorite things about Vienna: 

1. Our Neighborhood

Neighborhood

I have lived in several beautiful places in my life, but I have never lived anywhere I absolutely adored. I mean the deep down to my core, miss-the-city-when-we-are-gone-too-long kind of love. It's kind of weird. And glorious. Every time Jacob and I walk down our street I get a little thrill over the fact that this is my street. Is this how everyone feels about their home? Have I just been missing out all along? 

2. This Guy

Jacob

Ok, so technically Jacob doesn't belong on this list, but bear with me while I have a rare sappy moment. I couldn't imagine being on this adventure with anyone else. I'm glad it gets to be him. 

Keep a stiff upper lip, Chelsea. 

3. Street Festivals

Look guys! I took a video! 

There are festivals in Vienna around almost every corner. The Austrians appear to embrace any opportunity to hang out, drink beer, and enjoy an evening together - a trait I quite appreciate. This past weekend, the city hosted a free street performer festival at Karlsplatz, just two steps from our apartment. I could not have asked for better weekend plans. Stations were set up all around the square and park, with street performers from all across Europe performing their skills. We watched break dancers, fire breathers, avant-garde acrobatic acts, magicians - and this, a super trippy giant puppet that paraded around and shook it's arms to the music. It spoke to the deeply repressed part of my soul that wants to run away and join the circus. 

4. European Food (And Walking)

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Two aspects of a European lifestyle that I hold very dear: better tasting food, and walking. As a little girl in France I ate so much saucisson (salami) that my parents started calling it Chelsea-son. I never grew out of my love for it, and the salami available in America just doesn't cut it (sorry Trader Joe's). Now I can find it everywhere, along with good cheese, olives, chocolate, and...are you getting hungry? Best of all, I can walk to the grocery store to purchase it. No car necessary. After living in Southern California utterly dependent on a car, being able to walk to the store feels like the height of luxury. 

5. Beautiful Buildings and Parks 

Butterfly House

I hope I never grow accustomed to how beautiful this city is. Everywhere you look there are grand buildings, soaring carved facades, and coppery green roofs. Here, the parks are actually used. Park after beautifully manicured park fills the city, populated on pretty days with locals, picnickers, tourists, businessmen - everyone you can imagine. 

6. Café Culture

Coffee

Unfortunately there are still a couple of Starbucks around. For the most part however, Vienna embraces a long history of cafes and coffee houses. Once home for the thinkers, artists, and musicians that made Vienna great, now they cater to people like us who just want a nice cup of coffee, good conversation, and a pretty place to watch the world go by. Order one cup of coffee here and you are free to sit and read your newspaper, work on your laptop, or chat with friends for however long you please. No one takes their coffee to go. 

7. Showing Off Our New Home

Opera House

In the month we have been here we have spent time with five friends from around the world, and very nearly ran into another. Within a few days of being here we saw on Facebook that a friend from Turkey would be in Vienna for just one day. We scheduled a time to meet and catch up. Then, just a couple of weeks later two friends from San Diego rolled through Vienna on a river cruise, and met us for lunch. A few days after that, Jacob's brother Jeremy and his friend Justin arrived from a summer semester in England, and spent three days exploring the city with us. During that time Jacob and I received a message from an old Biola friend, saying "were you just in front of the Opera House? I think I just saw you...". 

Suffice to say that even though we have moved several thousand miles away from those we love the most, the world is beginning to feel increasingly small.

The Apartment Saga Pt. 2: Moving In

Hello world, we are back in the land of internet!

The walk up to our apartment... Just kidding.  As if you believed me anyway. 

The walk up to our apartment...
Just kidding. 
As if you believed me anyway. 

The past week has been a whirlwind of misadventure and a crash course in Austrian bureaucracy. Here is a list of the day to day highlights:

Monday

The appointment to sign the final contract and hand over the keys was made for 1:30 PM. I was going to be working as a substitute teacher at the International Christian School of Vienna that day (hey guys! I got a part time job!), and was unable to make it to the meeting. Jacob would go by himself and I planned meet him after work to help move in.

Jacob met the real estate agent at 1:30 and began an inspection of our new place, five minutes into which the real estate agent accidentally locked them outside of the apartment. Jacob's computer and rain coat were inside. The real estate agent said that he could not get another key until 6:30 PM, and rescheduled the meeting for then. Jacob was left on a very rainy day with no coat, no ability to do work, and 5 hours to kill. So, he went to the mall (along with everyone else in Vienna, apparently).

After work, I met Jacob at the mall. That evening, we resumed the key hand-over, and were informed that it was too late to have the electricity turned on that night. The electricity would be turned on the following morning at the latest.

Tuesday

Jacob and I spent the morning at Ikea purchasing small essentials and ordering furniture to have delivered to our apartment the following day. We arrived at the apartment in the early afternoon to find that our electricity had not yet been turned on. I made a few phone calls, tested out how to emphatically state "we need electricity" in German, did some cleaning, and went on errands to collect our luggage from the various friends it had been deposited with.

Luggage

That evening we left with another promise that our electricity would be on by the next morning.

Wednesday

Jacob and I made another run to Ikea to purchase even more essentials, and arrived at our apartment in the late morning to find that our electricity was still off. I made more phone calls and tried out some more German. The Ikea furniture arrived and the assembling process began.

Jacob constructing a table with the help of our friend's son, Caleb. 

Jacob constructing a table with the help of our friend's son, Caleb. 

A short time later, our electricity came on! Success! A quick inspection of the hot water heater however, left us (and the real estate agent, and our neighbor) scratching our heads. Electricity = Check. Hot Water? Nope. We spent our first night in the apartment that evening, and shared a bottle of wine to celebrate. The view from our apartment really is gorgeous.

The view from the upper balcony. 

The view from the upper balcony. 

Thursday

We finished assembling our furniture, and ventured out to purchase internet for our apartment. A successful two hours later we arrived back to the apartment and we were online! (More on how internet works here another time...it really is amazing the options offered here versus what is available in the U.S.) Our little apartment was starting to feel like home.

I emailed our landlord regarding the hot water, and he agreed to stop by and take a look at it that evening. At 7:30 PM he showed up, scratched his head over the water heater, and magically summoned two plumbers to our doorstep within 20 minutes. The plumbers left at 8:30- we had hot water! Success!

Then the internet inexplicably shut off. I made some phone calls and did some German pleading. The internet stayed off. 

Friday

Friday held two major tasks: Food acquisition, and figuring out why our internet had shut off. In the morning we surveyed our breakfast options: mayonnaise, gummy bears, and food dye. (The food dye was given to us - I don't typically make a priority of purchasing food dye.) We made ourselves a cup of coffee (at least we had that!), and set out to the Turkish Market that offers the best produce and eggs at the cheapest prices. Meat is expensive here; it is a good thing we eat a lot of vegetarian food anyways. But you can get 30 eggs for 4 dollars!  Half a stocked pantry later, the next step was internet.

As we found out, the sales person the day before had inadvertently mis-entered our internet code. Once we had hit a certain limit of data usage, the signal shut off. The code was corrected, and now, hopefully, we have unlimited data - which means regular blog updates! 

Partial view from our first balcony. 

Partial view from our first balcony. 

Today I bought a long handled broom for myself, highly preferable over the hand broom I had been using to sweep our floors for the past week. I'll admit, the hand broom was good exercise. I also learned the word "broom" in German as I frantically made sweeping motions at a store cashier. Jacob bought himself a jar of Nutella. As we are finding, when everything is new and in German, it's the little things that are the sweetest.

Now please excuse me while I use my Besen to fegen the floors. 

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 Big Move

Well friends, we are here. We are in Vienna!! I keep getting little shivers of excitement where, after two years of day dreaming of this city, I suddenly realize (yet again) that we are actually here. We are no longer dreaming. 

There was a point on our journey where I thought I might be having a stress dream where you keep being detoured and can never reach your destination... But I'll get to that part in a minute. 

Airport Lobby

We left San Diego at noon on Wednesday morning to drive up to Los Angeles for our 6 pm flight. So far, so good. We had spent a week meticulously packing and re-packing our luggage to make sure we were stretching our weight capacity as far as it could go. Challenge #1 would be getting our bags checked without incurring additional fees, or being told our carry-ons (which we had maxed out by any stretch of the imagination) were too heavy. Should that scenario arise, we had already agreed to put on extra clothes and go through security looking like the Michelin Man. 

I held my breath while checking the bags, and smiled innocently at the agent. Apparently the smiling worked -- not only were our bags checked without a hitch, but we were upgraded to exit row seats for our 12 hour flight. Thank God! Without the extra leg room I tend to go a little (a lot) stir crazy on long flights. 

Our flight, though long, was as pleasant as it possibly could have been. Turkish Airlines for the win! Theoretically all that was left was a quick lay over in Istanbul, and then a short flight to Vienna and we would be home. 

Plane wing

The Istanbul International Terminal was in chaos. We had arrived during a rain storm, but what we had missed (and of course only found out much later) was a violent thunderstorm that had grounded many planes and backlogged the entire airport. Gate assignments for flights were showing up only 20 minutes before the schedule take-off time, some of them popping up only to immediately have a neon "Last Call" sign flashing next to it. Our gate came up, only 15 minutes before take off, and we sprinted to find it. We came up short once at our gate -- the destination sign said "Munich". What? 

Apparently the flight for Munich had been delayed by 5 hours, so they were re-purposing the gate in the meantime. After asking around to other passengers we found were not the only ones waiting for Vienna. At least we had safety in numbers. The plane crew arrived and we all looked expectantly to them for information. They had none. They were as lost as we were, and our gate still said "Munich". By this time, the departures board was showing that at least 5 flights had been canceled, 14 were being delayed by over 9 hours, and the remaining majority were all delayed by 3 hours. Our flight was one of the few that didn't show a delay status.

Airport Delay

Every half hour for the next 3 hours were assured by the agents "it's only another 15 minutes." That was when I began to think that the entire past 20 hours might have been an endless looping stress dream that would never lead to Vienna. 

Thankfully, it did eventually lead to Vienna. The luggage arrived intact, we were met at the airport by friends, and safely in our beds 27 hours after leaving San Diego.  

Today has been dedicated to reacquainting ourselves with the city and walking through neighborhoods we had scouted online for apartments. Though there are a million and one things I could say, I'll leave you with this thought and a few pictures: 

In all my years of patronizing public bathrooms, I can honestly say I've never had a male bathroom attendant open the stall door for me. 

That's a first Vienna, that's a first. 

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RingStrasse
Jacob at Karlsplatz
Flower Shop