Really, really old

I’m an American.  We count things as “old” when they’ve been around for 200 years, and “really old” when they existed when our country was just a conglomeration of colonies.

In Vienna, I am surrounded by things that are “really old”, or even, my new classification of “really, really old” which pretty much accounts for stuff old enough to not quite make sense to my brain.  (Like, for example, the building I live in, which has been around since at least the 16th century.)

There are also plenty of new things in Vienna, like the Starbucks that just went in on the next block, about 1 minute from my front door.  I’m excited about it, and I stopped in yesterday to check it out.  On my way home, I noticed a sign outside of the restaurant next door, pointed directly at the new Starbucks:


And I had to laugh.  Yep — really, really old.

Sitting outside

It’s still chilly in Vienna.  When I went out to get coffee (and an hour to myself) this morning, it was about 40.  Not too bad, but not yet quite springlike (especially with the nearly ever present wind).  But it must be almost spring here, because when I got to Starbucks, they had set up the outdoor seating area.

I hadn’t expected it, so I wasn’t dressed for it — I was dressed to spend an hour sitting inside drinking tea, which calls for significantly different attire than sitting outside in the wind drinking tea.  But I got my chai and grabbed a spot outside — not under an umbrella — I wanted to absorb every small bit of sunlight that managed to straggle through the clouds.  (I was surprised and impressed at how popular the outdoor seats were.  I don’t know if the rest of Vienna is as glad as I am to be able to enjoy their coffee outdoors again, or if all the smokers are just grateful to be able to drink their coffee and smoke at the same time.)

I was cold.  By the end of my hour, I was wrapped in my coat, had pulled my wool hat on as far as it would go and struggled to turn the pages in my book with my thickly gloved hands.  But it was glorious.  I hadn’t realized just how much I missed getting to enjoy the center of the city with a cup of tea and a good book.  My hours spent on my own will be more therapeutic and restorative now that they get to take place in the open air.

I had forgotten, too, how quiet Vienna has been in the winter.  It’s like the city has been hibernating since Christmas.  The squares have been sparsely populated.  By contrast, today was bustling — tourists with cameras bumping in to each other to get the best shot of the dome of the Spanish Riding School; bicycles flying up and down the streets, with and against traffic; horse drawn carriages, full of bundled people taking in the sights.  It reminded me that this is just a fraction of the activity that will fill the square as the weather gets warmer.

Being out on the square, being able to take all of this in while I relax and enjoy the city, is really why I love being able to sit outside.  I feel like I’m able to see and experience so much more, and, since I’m just sitting, I’m able to quietly observe the sights, sounds, smells and feel of Vienna much more deeply.  Sitting outside at Michealerplatz every week is part of what helped me fall in love with living in Vienna, and I’m so excited to have that back.

Coffee and breakfast

In addition to many other benefits (lots of vacation time is my favorite) Dan gets some flex time at work.  We’re still getting used to exactly how it works, because it’s quite complicated — he can only use so much in a day, he can only use so much in a month, he can only carry over a certain amount from one month to the next, he can only use it during certain hours of the day — but we’re grateful to have it.  We use it a lot.  Our “official” family schedule arranges for Dan to be at work a little extra every day (so that we’re adding to his time bank) but we’re usually off our schedule and we’re often withdrawing from the bank instead of adding to it.

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A free cookie

Yesterday evening, I took Benjamin out for some “B & Mommy” time.  I usually go out, twice a week, on my own, for an hour, to get a cup of coffee.  Lately, when I go, he’s been asking to go with me.  I’ve been planning to do more things, just he & I — now that he’s in school, it’s rare for us to spend some time together when I’m not also wrestling Liam.  So, yesterday, we went together.

We went to my usual Starbucks for “coffee” (I told him he could either have hot chocolate or warm milk).  I walked, he rode his bike.  He was so excited to go out in the dark on his bike, and to go with me to get coffee.  We had a really nice trip over, and when we were in line, and B was debating his options, he caught sight of the cookies in the case.  He decided that rather than warm milk or hot chocolate, he’d really rather have a cookie.  When it was our turn to order, I asked for his cookie, and the manager, who was standing beside us, leaned over the counter and whispered something to our order taker.  Then he turned to us, “I think, since yesterday was Halloween, we’re going to give you that cookie for free.”  Benjamin was pretty excited (even though he has no real financial stake in his cookie supply).  I thanked the manager, and so did Benjamin.  He replied, “No problem.  Besides, you’re in here almost every day.”

In my defence, I’m really not in there every day.  I go in twice a week, that’s it.  (I swear.)  But, to a Starbucks crew in the center of the tourist section of Vienna, I imagine that an English speaker (trying to be a German speaker) who comes in regularly over the course of six months is pretty memorable.  (Everyone there already knows my orders — extra impressive because I don’t get the same thing all the time, but they know the choices I select from.)

My first thought was, “Wow, in Vienna, of all places, I’m a regular at Starbucks.  Yikes.”  It’s a little predictable, and a lot American.  But, in thinking about it, I’ve decided I don’t mind.  I like my Starbucks.  It’s isn’t about the coffee — I don’t require my normal American drinks or anything (the things that I get I could get anywhere in Vienna, anyway).  I do love the location — it is the only place at Michaelerplatz where you can sit outside, drink a coffee, and watch Vienna.  But even more, the people there are really great.  They’re friendly, they’re helpful, they let me practice my German on them, and they’re never impatient or irritable when I resort to English.  They’re good at what they do, too — tour buses literally unload in front of the shop, and I’ve been impressed, on several occasions, with the skill and ease with which they deal with the orders (and the myriad languages they’re faced with).

So, I’m ok with being a predictable American who’s a regular at Starbucks in Vienna.  I like it there.


Chestnuts roasting on an open fire

It was cold and rainy this morning in Vienna.  I quite liked it.  My weekly Sunday trip to Starbucks was ill-effected, though, because since it was rainy and cold, everyone wanted to drink hot coffee, everyone wanted to sit inside and drink their hot coffee, and (literally) I think a tour bus dropped off an entire load of people while I was there.  Which is all fine, but made for a rather loud and crowded Starbucks visit (I got the last seat at a table when I arrived, and then people started cramming into small, odd spaces — I had one woman standing over me for a significant portion of my white mocha).

It still served my purposes — an hour out, on my own, not worrying about the kids — but I decided to leave a bit early and go on a stroll.

On my way back home, I came upon a chestnut vendor.  Chestnuts roasting on an open fire — for real — served in a little paper cup.  So, I got some (12, to be exact).  Oh, so yummy.  And warm.  And happy in my tummy.  Just the thing for a cold, rainy, autumn day.

I brought them home to share with Dan and the boys.  Benjamin did not care for them.  Liam thinks they’re fantastic (or so I interpret his persistent toddling up to me, pointing at the paper cup and shouting, “Da!”).

Score another point for Vienna:  chestnuts roasting on an open fire.  There are things I really love about this place.

The Little Differences

I love McDonald’s here.  (And it’s not just because you can pretty much count on the cashier speak English.).  McDonald’s here has some menu items we should add in the States, like bacon cheeseburgers, curry dipping sauce, waffle fries and my new favorite beverage, eis caffee (which is espresso and vanilla ice cream).

But they also have a dessert and coffee bar inside — it’s like having a complete Starbucks inside every McDonald’s.  Except cheaper.  (And you don’t even wait in the same lines as people getting “regular” food.)

When we first chose our new apartment here, one of the first things I did was look up the closest Starbucks.  Now I realize there was no need — there’s a McDonald’s on the corner, where I can get (like I did today) an iced chai, a chocolate cupcake and a free babycino (warm milk) for B.

Oh, I’m going to miss that back at home.  Just saying.