Austrian clothes

I’ve been meaning to do some clothes shopping here in Vienna.  I don’t really have a lot of warm winter clothes that I love (and a few of the things I intended to bring got put into storage by mistake).  And, it can be really hard, as a mom, to not feel frumpy most of the time — I make sure I get a shower and brush my hair every day, but some days, that’s it.  There isn’t always a lot of time or opportunity for putting together a fantastic outfit, and I don’t really have the clothes to do it now, even when I am so inclined.  The people here are generally really well put together in terms of fashion and personal appearance, and it’s inspiring — I don’t need to look like I walked off the pages of a fashion magazine every time I leave the house (which is good, because that isn’t going to happen) but I’ve been wanting to make some changes.  It would just be nice to have a few good outfits to go to — at least a few that I know look good on me and that look good togther.

So, I went shopping today.  I went to a place that I walk by all the time.  They have beautiful sweaters, scarves, jackets and hats in the windows, and the window displays are always beautiful — everything is very classically Austrian (without being “traditional” Austrian clothing, which is something else entirely).  It was a little daunting — not only am I not the size I’d like to be right now (making it harder to find things that don’t contribute to the frumpiness) but, in what seems to be very typical of shops here, they only have one of each thing in each color in each size.  So, if the one you like in your size has been sold, that’s it — they don’t have it.  There isn’t a big store room in the back with dozens of the same thing.  With a little perseverance, though, and a lot of help from my sweet and English speaking salesperson, I was able to find quite a few things that I’m very excited about.

IMG_2272Later, I took Benjamin to another shop buy a hat and a new set of gloves.  (We want a set to leave for him at school so he has them to wear when he goes to play in the garden even if we forget them for his trip to school.)  Finding a hat for a 3 year old is not easy, made more challenging by the fact that he’d really rather the shopping trip not be successful at all — Benjamin would probably be happiest if he never had to wear a hat or gloves, ever again.  We were looking through the hats, trying to find one that fit.  I picked one out (with reindeer on it!) for him to try.  The saleswoman thought it would probably be too big, but I wanted him to try it anyway, just to see how cute it was.  Well, it was too big, but he loved it.  As soon as it went on, he decided it was the one he wanted, and he refused to take it off.  He actually turned around and tried to walk out of the store — not just without paying for it, but without me.  He got a little distressed when the saleswoman took it back to remove the tags, but was mollified when she let him stand behind the counter for the transaction (at this point he was wearing his new hat again, too, which helped).

He wore his hat around for most of the rest of the day (even though it was warm in Vienna today).  He couldn’t wait to show it to his Grandma on our Skype — he’s very excited about it.  I understand.  Both Benjamin and I have exciting new Austrian things to wear, which is good.  It’s always nice to have new things to wear that you feel good about.

Wearing a hat

I live in Austria.  I don’t have a car, I go out every day (rain, shine, cold or wind) at least to pick up Benjamin at school.  It’s only October, and we’re already below freezing in the mornings.  I can’t avoid it any longer:  I need a hat.

I do own a few hats — wooly, winter hats, built for warmth rather than appearance.  At home, that was fine, since I hardly ever wore them unless I was bundled up to go out in the snow with the kids, or out to the barn with the horses, and in either situation, function outweighs form in terms of selecting apparel.

But, with my new location, and the inevitability of it becoming more a daily accessory, I want to do better — I want to do what I can to find something warm and cute.  It’s a challenge.

Vienna has many specialty hat stores.  Hats are a ubiquitous item here, and people also like to be fashionable, so there are lots of options.  This is both good and bad.  On the one hand, I get to try on a lot of different things:  if I don’t like the first thing I see, that’s no problem — there are dozens of other choices.  On the other hand, there are dozens of choices and I really have no idea what I’m looking for, and that makes it a little overwhelming.

I went to the closest hat store (located on my block) and threw myself on the mercy of the first English speaking shopkeeper I found.  She was great — she asked me about my winter coats, about where and how often I’d be wearing a hat, and made a few suggestions.  I tried them all on, and felt silly with every single one.  Why is that?!?  I see other people wearing hats, all the time, looking cute — looking warm and fashionable and as though wearing a hat is a totally normal thing.  Each one I put on looks like part of a costume, or like it belongs to someone else and I just stuck it on to keep from being frozen.  The ones that I like the best on the shelf look the most ridiculous on me, the ones I liked the next best made me look like I’d borrowed something from an elderly person and the ones I like the least turned out to be the least offensive when I actually put them on my head and looked in the mirror.

056I still felt silly, though.  It still feels like playing dress up in something that belongs to someone else.  I narrowed it down to my favorite three choices, and then asked my new hat sales clerk friend for an opinion.  She picked the one I was the least drawn to, but I went with her idea (she is a professional, and she looks at people in hats all day long — AND she was honest with me about some less than attractive choices I tried).  It’s warm, but it’s BIG (apparently, it’s fashionable).  I feel silly when I put it on, but I’m glad my head is warm.  My hope is that I’ll get used to it, and that maybe, as the winter goes on, I’ll grow bolder and more comfortable with the idea of a hat, and maybe even be able to bravely experiment with other styles.  If I need to wear one every day (and if I need it in October, I imagine it won’t really be an option in January) I’m hoping I can find something that I really like — and maybe become one of those cute hat wearing people, too.

Birthday shopping and a lost balloon

This morning, Benjamin and I set out to do some gift shoping for Liam’s birthday (which is Monday, but we’re celebrating tomorrow).  We’ve already gotten him a book and a replacement for another toy that he has that’s worn out (which was a hand-me-down from Benjamin, who got it as a hand-me-down from his Aunt Margaret — so Liam’s simply getting a new incarnation of it).  I wanted to get him a couple of fun, new things for his birthday, too.

We left the house intending to go to the big mall, which is towards the outer parts of Vienna.  As we got to the courtyard of our building, we ran into one of our neighbors, and when we told her about our plans, she instead pointed us towards a big toy store which was much closer to our house.  I had no idea it was there!

We found the toy store — it is FANTASTIC.  I’m disappointed that we ever trekked out to the mall when this place is so close.  Benjamin and I looked all through the store for toys for Liam’s birthday.  Every 30 seconds or so, Benjamin would stop, point, and gasp, “Oh my gosh!” at some toy he had just seen.  They had everything:  books, blocks, dolls, trucks, cars, games, arts & crafts supplies, bikes, stuffed animals.  The store was four floors of toy shopping fun.

Benjamin was such a great helper.  He helped me pick out things for Liam (and suggested many things which, although not age appropriate for Liam, would have made lovely gifts for a 3 year old I know).  He was so thoughtful and kind when he was choosing things — he really thought about what Liam would enjoy.  I had an idea of one thing to get for Liam, but Benjamin was adamant about another toy — we went with his choice.  He was so excited about the idea of Liam playing with his new toys and so excited that it’s going to be his birthday.

010After we had chosen two gifts for Liam, we went downstairs to the balloon section.  I was going to select a few “1st birthday” balloons, but Benjamin had his heart set on a frog and a pirate ship that he found — really cool ones.  He really wanted them for Liam.  So, we went with those.  We purchased everything and opted to walk the 20 minutes home so we didn’t have to deal with the balloons on the train.  (I was having visions of us getting on the train and the balloons getting stuck on the opposite side of the door — birthday balloon carnage!)

The weather for our walk home was perfect:  sunny, cool and beautiful.  Benjamin and I talked about the things we saw along the way, and he talked about how excited he was so give Liam his presents.  I tried to impress upon him the idea that these things should be surprises (the thought is rather lost on him).  It was a perfect morning.  I was so impressed with how kind, well behaved and sweet Benjamin had been, and I, too, was looking forward to presenting Liam with his gifts and balloons.

And then, at the end of our block, Mommy blew it.  I shifted my grip on the bag of toys and I must have let go of the balloons.  I jumped in time to grab the frog, but I wasn’t able to catch the pirate ship.  We stood on the sidewalk and watched, helplessly, as it drifted up and up, past the buildings and into the sky.

Benjamin was devastated.  He sobbed, he screamed, he shook.  I felt like doing the same thing, but all I could do was to hug him and tell him I was sorry.  Mommy messed up.  Mommy made a mistake.  I didn’t mean to.  It was an accident.  I feel terrible.

Instead of arriving triumphantly home with our packages, we were disappointed and sad.  After getting home and calming Benjamin down, I left the boys with Dan and went back to the store to try to find another one — but of course, it had been the last one.  I 012know Liam doesn’t care — he never knew there was a pirate ship balloon, and he’s thrilled with the frog.  But Benjamin is so sad.  He was so excited to give it to Liam, and he keeps telling me he’s worried about the balloon — he wants to know what will happen to it now.  All through the day, he’s had bouts of crying about it.

My sweet boys.  I love them so much.  Benjamin’s sweet enthusiasm this morning was wonderful to experience.  His sadness and disappointment are awful.  Liam is so excited to have his frog balloon, and I know that he’ll love his presents — most of all the ones that Benjamin chose for him with so much love.  Best of all for his birthday, though, Liam has a sweet and wonderful brother who loves him.  We are all so lucky.

Buying bread

One of my favorite things to eat is grilled cheese with tomato and tomato soup.  My mom offered to make it earlier in the week, but it has been a little too warm for that kind of meal.  Yesterday, however, was a little cooler, and rainy, so she offered again, and I accepted.  We had purchased everything we needed, except for bread — the bread here has so few preservatives that it won’t last more than a day or so.

So, after getting Benjamin down for a nap, and giving up on getting one for Liam, I left my mom to supervise the kids and I went down to the bakery to purchase some bread.  This isn’t as easy as it was at home.  I don’t know what kind of bread I want, there are a dozen or so options, and they’re all back behind the counter, so I can’t get a really good look or squeeze or smell them — and even if I could, I struggle with pronouncing the names.  I contemplated the options for a moment, and then gave up and decided to try my luck with English.  It actually worked out — the guy behind the counter spoke excellent English and was kind enough to use it, and to make a recommendation on “something dark and good for sandwiches”.  He thoughtfully chose a loaf for me, and I nodded gratefully, and then asked, with accompanying pantomime, if he would be able to slice it for me.  (I may not learn a lot of German while I’m here, but I will be great at charades by the time I go home.)

He turned around, sliced the bread and told me the amount, I paid, got the bread and went to leave.  But my bag felt a little light . . . and on second thought, shouldn’t it have been more expensive?  Upon examining the contents of my bag, I realized that he hadn’t sliced the bread — he had cut the loaf in half.  Bummer.  Now I didn’t have enough for grilled cheese sandwiches.  What to do?  Should I interrupt the customer after me (now placing their order) to correct my mistake?  Wait in the line of about 12 people (I swear, I’ve never seen so many people in this bakery, ever before) to fix it?

Nope.  I’m neither that brave or that humble.  I walked down to the next bakery and bought another whole loaf of bread.  Afraid to make the same mistake twice, I didn’t even ask them to slice it.

And that’s the story of how I ended up with a loaf and a half of bread for sandwiches yesterday.

To market

Saturday is our “work” day in our family:  it’s our day to get our household chores and errands done that don’t easily get done during the week.  We sweep, do laundry and lately, we unpack and get organized, but hopefully not for too much longer.  We usually start after breakfast with a trip to the grocery store.  Typically, we all go together, or occasionally, Dan will go with one of the kids while I get some things done around the house with the other one.

017Today, we had two errands to run:  we had to go to the grocery store and to the drug store (because here, everything is separated into specialty stores — grocery stores aren’t “one stop” shopping like they are in the US).  We decided to divide the effort:  Dan took Liam to the grocery store down the block, and Benjamin and I headed to the drug store (which is just over 1 km from our apartment).

We had the best time.  It was the first time I’ve been out, since we’ve been here, with just one of the boys.  It is a completely different thing to only have one to focus on.  Benjamin and I were walking, so I didn’t even have a stroller (imagine that!).  We walked along, holding hands, and talked about the things we saw.  Benjamin told me all about the kinds of cars he was seeing, and we worked on the German words for the colors.  We saw some people working in one of the parks (cleaning up and such) and we came upon some flowers (which were labelled as a “guerrilla gardening” project).  We took our time, and we really enjoyed ourselves.


When we got to the store, he pushed the cart and helped me look for our purchases, and helped me put them in the cart when we found them.  He drove the cart to the checkout and helped me load everything into my bag when we were finished.  We each brought a backpack, but since his was full of his toys already, I carried all of our purchases.  Since our walk was fairly long, and our shopping was pretty heavy, we opted to take the Strassenbahn (streetcar) back, and it brought us all the way to the top of our street.


It was so much fun.  We’re going to try to do that every Saturday — divide the outings, but also divide the kids.  I had the best time being one-on-one with Benjamin today.  He is such a great kid, and although I’m aware of that all the time, it was really nice to have an hour or so to focus just on him.  That was my favorite part of today.

A grande soy chai is still a grande soy chai

Today was probably our busiest day so far:  we looked at two apartment possibilities in different parts of town, Dan went by his new work to get some of the paperwork started and out of the way, we went shopping for non-food grocery items (which here you don’t buy at the grocery store), we went to the bakery (one of my new favorite places) for a loaf of bread and we had the cleaning lady come by.  And that was all before dinner, and in addition to the normal activity of life in a new place with two little ones.  Whew!

It was a very busy day.  With all of our activity, and the fact that Liam isn’t quite adjusted to the time change yet, we’re exhausted.  By 5:00, when we were finished with all of our errands, I was completely drained.  We were headed home and were discussing whether we should stop to grab a little something to treat ourselves on the way home.  I was too tired to walk the extra few blocks, but Dan went, and he brought something home for me:  a grande soy chai, from an actual Starbucks.  Even at home, I would have enjoyed and appreciated something like that after a long day.  But there’s something extra special about having a little treat from home when we’re so far away.  They make it a little less sweet here, but otherwise, it’s so familiar:  the taste, the smell, even the cup (it’s written in English, too!).  Because even though we’re having a wonderful adventure, and it’s great to explore all of the things that are exciting and different, it’s comforting to experience something warm and familiar at the end of a long day.

Skills I didn’t even know I had

There are lots of things that I know I’m good at.  But today I gained appreciation for something that it turns out I was good at, but didn’t realize.  I used to be really good at grocery shopping.  I could go in, take an efficient route through the store, shop for the best deal, manage the self-checkout line and get out quickly — with Benjamin or Liam, and usually without a meltdown from any of us.  I never really realized that this was something to be proud of until I learned something else today:  I am NOT as good at grocery shopping in Austria.

It wasn’t a complete disaster.  We did come away with groceries.  We even purchased about 75% of what was on our list.  It wasn’t efficient.  It wasn’t elegant.  It wasn’t fast.  There was a lot of confusion and even some tears (fortunately, the latter were from Benjamin and Liam only).  We took the stroller, which didn’t fit down most of the aisles.  I ended up purchasing some kind of baby cereal (which is NOT oatmeal) that is labelled with a word that doesn’t exist anywhere other than the box I purchased.  We struggled to find any kind of mustard, and I purchased powdered sugar instead of regular sugar.  But I braved the deli counter rather than settling for pre-packaged ham.  (This caused a great deal of confusion, because I wasn’t prepared to say anything other than the weight and name of what I wanted, and when presented with a more detailed question by the woman behind the counter, I could only repeat my request.)  I asked for ham, and I could swear she was telling me I wanted bacon (turns out she was asking if I wanted baked ham, which I think is what she gave me after several repetitions of the only phrase I had memorized) and I ended up getting about twice what we really needed, because we’re still not great at the kg/pound mental conversions.  I also think I accidentally cut in line in front of someone else who had been waiting.

But none of that is really the point.  So far, this is the thing that we’ve done that is the most “living here” vs. “visiting here”.  When you visit, you don’t brave the market for staples (at least, not with the sense of resolute determination that we did today).  We did it.  We bought food and ate lunch.  We got our 1/2 kg of schinken, and we even managed to pay and bag our own groceries — all in a store where I don’t think a single person spoke English.  It’s quite an accomplishment.  So, although I’m definitely better at grocery shopping back home, it turns out we’re not so bad at doing it here, either.

Hallo, Gelato!

Our adventure today took us to the Viennese equivalent of Tysons Corner mall.  It’s just outside the city, about the same number and style of shops, and even had many of the same shops.  Ironic, of course, that we’d move to Europe to go to a mall nearly identical to one that was blocks away from where were living, but we were in search of new phones, and that is where the search took us.  (It was to no avail on that front, but that is not the purpose of this story.)

Upon discovering that we were not, in fact, going to get our iPhones today (bummer!) we decided to treat ourselves (and our very patient eldest child) to some gelato.  I’ve had gelato before in the states — it’s basically like strong tasting, less creamy ice cream that everyone gets very excited about and I have no idea why.  I had not, however, ever had real, European Gelato before.  Wow.  Yummy, yummy, yummy.  Pretty much like ice cream, but with a great texture — kind of like a combination of really decadent ice cream and marshmallow fluff.  Kind of like frozen custard, but creamier.  So good.  Can’t wait to get more.

We also found another Starbucks today (that makes two so far).  Dan popped inside and did some reconnaissance — apparently, it’s exactly the same as home.  Same stuff, same prices (which means really expensive for that kind of food here).  But good to know it’s there, just in case I find myself in dire need of a grand soy chai.

Generally, we’re finding it’s harder to get stuff done than we had expected.  We want to make appointments to do some house hunting, but to make those calls, we need phones.  We’ve been trying for two days to get phones, but it’s proving trickier than we expected:  the stores are not open American business hours, and when we finally got to an open store today, Dan first had to come back to get his passport, and then when we went back, we realized that we need paperwork (proof of residency) that we don’t have yet — partly because we haven’t been able to call the people at Dan’s work who we need to get in touch with because we don’t have phones.  It’s all a little frustrating — but only a little.  That seems to be just part of life here:  the pace of things is a little slower, and we aren’t really expected to be firing on all cylinders yet.  We’ll get it sorted out.  In the meantime, we need to get on with normal life stuff:  unpacking, grocery shopping, laundry . . . things like that.  Even big adventurers have housework to do.

The same “hund” as the Queen

So today, some observations.

First, allow me a moment of American ridiculousness:  Busch Gardens has gotten so many things right.  Seriously, walking through the little cobblestoned streets of Vienna today, I kept thinking of Busch Gardens and how the way they depict the winding alleyways and tiny shops in a way that’s really quite accurate.  More trees at Busch Gardens, though.

Secondly, in Vienna, backpacks and scooters are not just for kids.  I’ve seen several adults on their way to work with backpacks over suits and likewise, several suited adults riding on scooters, headed to work.  Not Vespa scooters, the little ones that kids ride in the States that you push like a skateboard.

264While we were out walking yesterday, and again on our long mid-day walk today, we were getting a lot of stares.  We weren’t sure whether it was because of Bailey (who seemed to be getting a lot of attention) or because Dan was wearing Liam in the Ergo (although, Baby Bjorn would have us believe this is a European thing?) — they both seemed to be getting looks.  Turns out, it was Bailey (or maybe Bailey AND Dan, but at least Bailey).  Three separate people came up to discuss him with us today.  The first guy stared from across the street, and then came over to ask in German if that was one of the same kinds of “hunds” that the Queen of England has.  Unbelievably, I understood exactly what he said, and managed a “Ja”, in response, which then unleashed a stream of German stopped only when Dan interjected that we didn’t speak German.  Then, two schoolboys followed us, to ask, in English, why Bailey didn’t have a tail.  That’s when I remembered that tail docking isn’t legal in Europe, so that may be at least partly why he’s been getting stares.  Then a woman complimented us on his muzzle — it apparently seems more civilized than the kinds most people use here (however, although muzzling your dog is a law here, from what we’ve seen, it’s rarely followed).

We’re generally finding that the people here in Austria are very friendly and helpful (and willing to speak English).  Of course, my first attempt at German today was pretty well shot down by the woman working at the market down the street — she was also impatient with the speed of my shopping because she apparently wanted to get back to sitting outside.  It wasbeautiful outside today.  But, I was brave enough to try!  And I got vollmilch for Benjamin.  So, success!