Monthly Archives: December 2010

Blending old traditions and creating a few new ones along the way – Christmas


Ok now try to keep up. No really you need to stay focused if we are going to get through all of this without tears, diplomatic incidents or a nervous breakdown.

To recap the story so far, earlier in the month we had:

  • the visit from Krampus (bad children and scaring the hell out of the kids tradition)
  • also a visit from Saint Nicolo  (good children and encouraging the kids to eat lots more sweats tradition)
  • a trip to Zwettl to see the devils and demons parade through the streets (more scaring the hell out of the kids tradition)
  • lots of trip Christmas markets (playing, skating and sweats for the kids, whilst for the adults drinking Glühwien and talking about what Christmas was like when you were young  traditions) (Note: Bad news the Christmas markets close down after tonight, the good news they will be replaced a few days by New Year markets)

Now our Christmas tree went up last night (23rd) and so it’s important to remember that when H’s little Austrian friends come round, this morning, we have to explain that Christkindl brought the English family our tree (but not yet the presents) early.

This morning it’s important to get up early to give yourself time to remember all the things you’ve forgotten as the shops will all be closed by midday.

This afternoon I need to remember to leave the more protestant half of my Anglicanism at home as we go with friends to a Catholic church for the children’s Christmas service.

Like most families in this part of the world, we will tonight sit down with our wider family for the Christmas meal. This will be followed by the traditional gathering around the Christmas tree (delivered today along with the presents by Christkindl) and presents will be opened along with suitable quantities for wine.

Note to self: don’t forget to let Christkindl know which presents from the list are to be delivered today and which are to be left for the Weihnachtsmann (Father Christmas).

With our traditional Austrian Christmas safely navigated, it’ll be a few hours sleep before H’s wakes us up to start the English Christmas.  Father Christmas will have left his share of the presents under the tree and in the stocking emblazoned with the name Helena. Grandparents will be summoned to join us for the present opening ceremony and the English Christmas will be well under way.

One recent tradition in our family is to invite a few friends to join us for our ‘traditional’ English Christmas meal and to stay for the afternoon/evening to drink, talk and play. R likes to prepare this meal and out does herself each year. I, as with all such ‘English themed’ social events, try to stop R from turning the house into something resembling an English pub. This has become a greater challenge over recent years as she now has far too many ideas inspired from her time sitting, drinking and eating in a certain establishment in Lincolnshire.

One ‘English’ tradition we don’t have here of course is the gathering around the TV at 3pm to listen to the Queen.

The next forty-eight hours are always an enjoyable time of the year but in a few days we will head to the mountains to recover (another tradition I very much approve of).

Note to English readers: If you don’t want to spend all your time in the company of Austrians being told that you are simply an extension of the USA/Coke Cola Corporation when it comes to Christmas then it’s useful to read up on yours and their traditions. As ever, if you want to get a quick summary then Wikipedia is a useful starting point   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christkind

Merry Christmas for today and tomorrow 🙂

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Filed under Christmas, Vienna Life

Don’t let the tea fool you


I vaguely noticed the interesting interior of the shop which seemed to be selling tea as we walked down one of the main shopping thoroughfares’ in the centre of Vienna. More importantly, what R had noticed was the sign offering a Glühwien made with a wine from a vineyard we had visited a few years back in the Steiermark region. After a very short debate, we had been Christmas shopping all day and it was now mid afternoon, we turned around and entered Heissenberger. To my surprise and pleasure at the back of the shop was a rather nice coffee bar.

Heissenberger – “Hot Berger” as Google translates their website – it turned out is a tea and coffee shop with additional establishments in Graz and Salzburg. As we walked through to the back we discovered a very pleasant coffee bar with around half a dozen tables. The coffee was as good as promised but the Glühwien I’m afraid wasn’t really to our taste. However, the bar provided a relaxing interlude from the noise and bustle of the Christmas shopping throng. So maybe not a candidate for my ‘perfect coffee house’ but a nice escape for a good coffee next time R decides we should go on an eleven hour shopping expedition. 

http://www.heissenberger.com/index.php5

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Filed under Coffee in Vienna, Vienna Life

Skating head first into the snow and pictures for Uncle Philip (the football one)


 “Isn’t that cold?” I asked Helena and her friend as for the third time they completed a dash across the skating rink and dived headlong into the snow. The emphatic response from the children, as they rolled around, was “no its fun”.

We had decided to take the children up the hill to one of the local skating venues, something that has the making I think of a regular event for the next few months. In this instance the Villa Aurora was to be our destination, a pleasant tradition Viennese restaurant with a great view from its terrace out across the city. At this time of year a large part of the terrace is converted into a skating rink which is open to the general public.

My first surprise of the day had been the argument between mother and daughter as we prepared to leave the house. R announced that we would drive up the hill instead of walking, which was greeted with howls of “NO” from H. As I have comment in previous blog postings, it is a given in our household that Helena never walks anywhere if she can avoid it and R will want to walk whenever possible, hence my surprise and confusion at this turn of events. It transpired  that Romana favoured driving as we were expecting guests later in the evening and she was concerned about getting back in time to finish the dinner preparations. Helena, as became obvious later in the evening, viewed the trip up the hill not some much as a chance for walking but as a great opportunity for snowball fights. Just like politics everywhere, the policy positions of the party’s in the Bates household cannot be taken for granted as changes in climate or agenda’s can cause unexpected shifts in what are thought to be ardently held views.

After some skating and rolling in the snow a general consensus developed that everyone was cold. As we stood there with new snow falling and the temperature dropping the adults announced that we would all walk round the corner to a small Christmas market and stand in the snow drinking some (children’s) punch. H looked at her clearly deranged parents, gave a sideways look at the Villa Aurora, and suggested in that tone that says ‘and you’re supposed to be the adults’ that it would be much nicer to simply go into the warm restaurant. I have to admit that I turned to Helena and congratulated her of the good sense of her suggestion and we all swiftly entered the restaurant.

The Villa Aurora has a very warm and cosy atmosphere. The menu although a little pricey, in comparison to some venues we like, has a good choice including for the likes of myself vegetarian options. This evening we discovered that its wild berry Gluhwein is one of the best in the area and the children reported that there snack, which I would describe as rolled pancakes with whipped cream and plum sauce, was delicious.  As has now become a tradition, pictures were taken of all the food and drink to add to a collection of images to be sent to Helena’s uncle Philip (that’s H’s football Uncle Philip not the car Uncle Phillip as they are known).

For H and her friends the current weather conditions and the local facilities provide a winter wonderland, so long as the adults can be kept in order.

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Filed under Dornbach, Vienna Life

Origins of modern English


Inspired by the English being spoken, by parents and children, in many different accents at Helena’s school last night, I decided to read up a little on the development of English. I found this summary on Wikipedia particularly useful. I’m posting the link for those who might also be interested in the subject.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_English

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Mouse and rabbits among INNS


I was surprised to see rabbits and other species I associate with Britain named in an article in the Guardian – http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/feedarticle/9408191 – about ‘invasive non-native species’ (inns). A report published today says that inns cost the British economy £1.7 billion every year.

My surprise simulated me to Google on the subject and I found this useful piece in the Telegraph on regarding inns. At the end of the article there is a list on when some inns first arrived in the UK – rabbits were first brought to Britain by the Romans but they were not established in the wild until the mid to late 12th Century. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/6574709/Mouse-and-rabbits-among-non-native-species.html

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‘It’s warmer when you’re winning’ – away with the Violets


As I sit by the fire warming the life back into my feet, I thought it would be a good moment to put down few observations about Austrian Football and my first away game following Austria Wien.

A door to door journey of about 50 minutes saw Charly and I arrive in Mattersburg and the stadium with about 45 minutes to spare before kick-off.  Mattersburg is a small town of about 6,300 inhabitants which is located to the south of Vienna in the northern half of the State of Burgenland. This rural wine growing area is home to SV Mattersburg, our opponents for this premier league match, whose stadium has a capacity of 17,000 but today would play host to a crowd of only 2,300, almost half of which were Austria fans. This may have had something to do with the weather and the time of year but also seemed to be linked to their lowly position in the league – second from bottom at the start of the day. What was surprising to discover was that in their promotion winning season, five years ago, and when newly promoted they would attract crowds of around 15,000 people and had the second highest average attendance in Austria.

Luck was with us as we parked the car, the third member of our little group arrived by accident at the same spot which meant we could progress directly to the stadium. Inside we made for one of the food stall as Charly wanted to purchase what he assured me (a vegetarian) was the best sausage you could buy at a football ground in Austria. So with our beer and the meat eater happy with his sausage we stood at a high table, at the top of the embankment, behind one of the goals – a moment you would definitely not experience at an English premiership ground.

Austrian premiership football varies between the level you find in the English Championship and that played in the English League One. In this instance the game moved up through these levels as we went from the first to the second half. Mattersburgs’ early lead did not make the temperature nor the football anymore enjoyable and the late first half equaliser only mildly improved matters for we away fans. As sometimes happens, when a team go down to ten men, Austria started to play after a valid sending off and eventually won 1:2 – when the second goal went in our little group agreed that ‘It’s warmer when you’re winning’.

Given the weather we had agreed not to stand in the uncovered away supporter’s zone but joined many other Austria fans in the one main (covered) stand where our supporters congregated at one end but mix in with the home fans as you moved further into the centre. Despite the small numbers the crowd was as usual loud. Drums and other instruments are common at Austrian football matches and there is usually a platform behind the goals for the one or more supporters, often with a megaphone, to conduct the chanting.  Although they have now been band, flares were also in use to create additional atmosphere and as usual one of them got dropped causing fans to dive in all directions. Large flags are also a favourite behind the goals but I personally prefer to see a match than have the additional ‘atmosphere’ of a cloth obscuring my view of the play – but then I’m getting old I guess.

An unusual event at this game was listening to the announcer request the Austria fans behind the goal to stop throwing snowballs at the Mattersburg goalkeeper – as with all such public service appeals it had no effect whatsoever. The announcers at Austrian stadium get much more involved in the matches than their English counterparts without (it would appear) technically breaking the rules. When their team scores they will announce the scorer repeatedly and engaging the crowd in chanting the players name, which is sometimes extended to more generally encouragement of the team.

A tradition at the end of games is for the team as a whole to come over to their supports and take a bow. This caused some problems a year or so ago when Rapid Vienna visited Aston Villa in the UEAF Cup, as the players ended up fronted Stewards who tried to stop them from thanking their fans.

This was the last game before the winter break. Although much debated in England it is an absolute must here in Austria. At this time of year the crowds can often be seen rhythmically jumping up and down during games. This is sometimes part of the excitement and involvement in the game but mostly it’s about getting the blood circulating in your feet in sub-zero temperatures. Playing matches in these conditions is just not worth it, unless it’s the UAEF Cup and you are playing against a technically better Spanish team who just don’t like the cold.

One consequence of the winter break is that it creates two mini rather than one long season. With Austrian teams vulnerable in the transfer window to losing players to clubs from bigger leagues the teams that start the ‘second’ season can be very different. Given that the summer break is also shorter than that experienced in England you don’t get that same distinctive divide here that comes from the long wait of an English summer.

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Filed under Austrian Football, Football

The weather and morning TV


Watching live webcam feeds of ski resorts, towns and cities across Austria makes for oddly entertaining breakfast television. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure let me explain. ORF 2, one of the national broadcasting company’s channels, provides two hours of quality weather TV in the morning by the simple devise of showing live web feeds accompanied by weather updates and forecasts for the next few days.

In a country which is mostly mountains the weather is a vertical and well has horizontal issue. I have in the past walked through the hills an hour from Vienna wearing a T-shirt and enjoying the warm sunshine whilst being able to look down upon the clouds covering a sub-zero and wet capital city. So these webcam broadcasts can be of real practical use in knowing the conditions in different regions and various altitudes – I have in the past observed the webcam feeds before deciding whether to make a trip.

However, the real value of this two hour programme is the entertainment it can provide. These are webcam’s with camera’s automatically moving through 180 degrees with no human involvement. Therefore you never know what you might or might not see. If the weather is bad or the wind is blowing snow/rain directly into the camera then the effect can be anything from a blank screen to a truly modern art experience. When you can see, the views can vary from great scenery through to people getting on with early morning life. As yet I’ve never looked down on one of the towns and seen a bank robbery or observed a dramatic mountain rescue at a ski resort but then this real time TV is more a gentler wake-up entertainment, as you prepare for the day, than ‘reality’ TV.

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Filed under Television, Vienna Life