Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Stiftung Melk, Dürnstein and the Naschmarkt

Wow, as I sat down to write, I had to ask myself, how is it that a whole week has already flown by?! And where do I even start?

Hm, let’s see, I left off during orientation. On Friday our group took a ‘field trip’ to an area called the Wachau, where we toured the “Stift Melk” a Benedictine monastery,

took a boat trip down the Donau,or in English, the Danube, (by the way, did you know that one of the longest German word is Donaudampfschiffahrkartenkontrolleur?!), and then arrived in Dürnstein.

Dürnstein is mainly famous for being where King Richard I Lionheart was held captive in 1192. We took a hike up to the castle ruins, which you can see to the left.

They also have incredibly tasty apricot liqueurs! We capped the evening off with a wine tasting at a local vineyard. All in all a lovely day and enjoyable finish to the orientation!

After the incredibly busy and packed week, I was looking forward to a calm and relaxing weekend wandering around Vienna. On Saturday I made my way over to the Naschmarkt, a huge market I have been eager to visit ever since I got here. Some of you unfamiliar with Vienna might be wondering what exactly this place is… I would say its an epicurean’s paradise. Picture about a half-mile of jam-packed stands, shops and stalls filled with herbs and spices, baked goods, vegetables, fruits, nuts, candies, teas, cheeses, meats—you name the food, they probably have it! I wandered through the entire market drooling all over myself, taking in the smells, feasting my eyes on all the displays and taking a few snapshots. Since the weather was gorgeous (around 70 degrees F and not a cloud in the sky), the place was packed, so I had to weave around masses of people to get to some stands. I also made an interesting discovery after having purchased my first item (a bag of curry spice): the prices decrease the further along you go in one certain direction. Whereas I paid almost 3 Euros at the entrance of the market for a bag of curry, I found the same kind for about half the price at a later point. Ah, lesson learned. Haggling or bargaining is not a common practice—unlike other open-air markets I have visited in Central and South America—so you pay what they tell you. Now I know which end to keep to if I want to find the deals!

My most exciting discovery was Käseland, which translates to “cheese land” and anyone whoknows me wellcan probably imagine my reaction when I stumbled across this find!J

The popular seasonal item at the moment is this drink called “Sturm” which is… (I am told the name is ) While I was wandering through the Naschmarkt I bumped into two other Fulbrighters, Thomas and Eric, and joined them for a glass of Sturm.

The Naschmarkt is definitely a place I am going to frequent—and I have decided I want to buy a little wicker basket to take along with me for my goodies! Since I was still trying to get the feel of the place, I didn’t end up buying too much, but did come away with some basic spices (oregano, basil, garlic and curry), as well as some couscous and fresh Dinkelbrot. (for more pictures--also from the field trip, see my Facebook album!)

While I am on the topic of food, I guess there is something worth mentioning about the way Austrians (and I assume many other European cultures) approach grocery shopping, food storage, etc. The biggest distinction I would make is based on size. Unlike us Americans with our Sam’s Club/Costco memberships that we use to stock huge deep freezers and double-door fridges, the Austrians have very small fridges and freezers, which consume far less energy. Because the fridges are so small, you obviously can’t stock them for a long period of time—this means you go shopping more frequently, but with smaller loads. Often times you see people walking on their way home from work with a few items in their little wicker basket or cloth shopping bag (oh, yeah, plastic bags cost 5 cents a piece at the grocery store, so there’s definitely incentive to bring your own or recycle!). Also, food here has far less preservatives and therefore has a much earlier expiration date than our food in the U.S. (another reason to shop in smaller trips and doses—you can’t buy too much food or it will spoil!). All in all I find this method to be really practical and easy, especially since I am just cooking for one at the moment. There are tiny grocery stores placed all over the city, and several right here in my district.

And finally, a littler observation about ingredients. On my yoghurt container the ingredients listed are: yoghurt, strawberries, sugar, the stabilizer pectin and carrot juice concentrate. Period. That’s it. There’s a little sign on it saying “without artificial ingredients, 100% natural,” and sure enough, that’s the truth. I’ve been told that since the 70s and 80s, when the Green Party was on the rise, there was a huge shift toward organic foods. From what I can tell, the food regulations are upheld at a national level and there is a very concerted effort to produce and sell locally. I wish I knew more about the details on all of this, but maybe that will come with some time. To any extent, I find it fascinating.

But of course, that’s not to say there are no equivalents to Sam’s Club and Costco’s here, or that every product in Austria is organic and natural, but I do find it interesting that I can recognize most ingredients on the labels of most products here, but that that is not the case when I look at the ingredient facts on U.S. food labels. It makes you wonder what exactly what all those other ingredients are and why we need them….

Stepping down from my soap box now…I am sure that won’t be my last posting on food, anyway!

The rest of the weekend was really nice and relaxing—highlights include relaxing in the Stadtpark in the afternoon sunshine with Eric and Thomas after our “Sturm”, watching the Notre Dame/Pitt football game (!) with fellow Fulbrighters, going on an easy run through the Josefstadt and evening mass at the Stephansdom with Ann.

Upcoming blog entries on Austrian bureaucracy as promised, and hopefully on the Viennese coffeehouse culture. And I will be sure to post about my long weekend in Munich which will include a long-overdue reunion with Jens and Reneta, birthday celebrations and, yes, a visit to Oktoberfest!

With love from Vienna,


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Arrival in Vienna


Certainly there are other adjectives that would describe the emotions I am having right now, but the other day,
as I was strolling through the Volksgarten
at dusk (see picture), taking in the scenery, watching the last rays of sunshine set behind the Rathaus... I started to giggle to myself. Vienna is an intoxicating city--everywhere you turn, there is something to take in, savor, marvel at, stare at, and as in my case, giggle over. The reason I giggled is that I can't believe I am actually here and I am absolutely, incredibly happy. A year and a half after I attended my first
Fulbright information session at Georgetown, I am now finally walking along the Ringstrasse, passing through the Nationalbibliothek, and sipping Melange at coffeehouses.

I arrived last Sunday, after an excruciating journey from Pittsburgh-Newark-Stockholm-Munich-Vienna. By the time I reached Munich, I was too tired to get all too excited about the fact that the Lufthansa flight attendant checking us in was wearing a yellow and blue Dirndl, in honor of Oktoberfest. When I return to Munich next week to visit Jens and Reneta, I am sure I will see plenty more of that!

I finally arrived in Vienna after about 24 hours of straight travel, only to realize that my main suitcase wasn't popping up on the conveyor belt at baggage claim. Exhausted at this point, I really didn't have enough energy to get upset or fret about it, and just turned in my information in hopes it would be delivered later that evening as promised. I then hopped a train into the middle of the city to find my apartment and meet my landlord and landlady.

My apartment is located in the 8th district of Vienna, otherwise named the Josefstadt (hence the name of my blog). A few of you have already looked this up online, but in case you haven't, here's the link. Vienna is structured in a circle, with the main center being the 1st district (the former imperial fortress), and the other districts fanning out from it like sun rays. I am about a 15- 20 min. walk from the middle of the city, which is where the university is located.

My landlord and landlady (Wolfgang and Riccarda) are both retired as a lawyer and doctor, respectively. They are both incredible sweet and charming, and very endearingly bicker and

banter back and forth with each other, in a fashion perfected over what I would assume to be decades of marriage. Riccarda was even so kind to stock my fridge with necessary food items, since all stores remain closed on Sundays. (I was delighted to find cheese-filled tortellini in there among the goodies!). My suitcase was also delivered later that night--and I realized that this was a perfect example of looking on the bright side of situations. The 50 lb. suitcase, which I would have otherwise had to 'schlepp' through the entire city on the tram and subway, was delivered right to my doorstep on the very same evening of my arrival! (It also taught me that it always pays off to pack extra clothes in your carry-on in case this kind of thing DOES happen--that way I was at least able to shower and change, which I desperately needed to do at that point!)

This past week has consisted of extensive orientation sessions with the Austrian Fulbright Commission. We have had a wide array of speakers, e.g. a diplomat from the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the ombudsman of the University of Vienna, a journalist/media consultant from one of Austria's leading weekly journals and a professor emeritus. Several of the speakers had been Fulbright scholars themselves in the past. The sessions consisted of 'crash courses' in
Austrian education system, politics, media landscape and history. In addition, we have also had a few 'how-to' sessions, attempting to guide us through the impenetrable Austrian bureaucratic system we have to navigate to register at the university and to get a visa (I think this whole process might warrant its own blogpost at later point when I have more energy to be witty--the phenomenon of the infamous "Meldezettel" needs to be explained!). All of the sessions have been incredibly interesting and only further affirms my assertion that Austrian culture is, indeed, very different from German. We have also had a few tours through the first district and one guided tour of the Nationalbibliothek. Here you can see the "Prunk Saal" in the library.

Part of our role, as a Fulbrighter, is to act as a sort of layman ambassador, increasing mutual understanding between the U.S. culture and our host culture. I hope that this blog can be the venue through which I can contribute to these efforts. I'd like to try to come back to some of these things I learned during the orientation, once I have had time to process some of the aspects that make Austria distinctly Austrian. I'd also like to discuss some topics I personally feel very passionate about at the moment--such as food practices in Austria as compared to the U.S. (I can't wait to post about that one!). But then again, I am there there will be times where I will also just post about my struggles with the "Wiener Dialekt" or my favorite cheese/beer/coffee varieties!

Ultimately, I want to try to give you, my friends and family, a better sense of this tiny country (the size of North Carolina!) which will be my home over the next nine months. Also, if there is something specific you want to hear about, let me know! :)

with love from Vienna,

*Note: None of the views or opinions expressed here in any way reflect that of the US State Department or the Fulbright Commission.