Monthly Archives: January 2011

It’s Green; it works but is it an effective solution?

Since starting my new job, my appreciation of Vienna’s integrated transport system has been further enhanced. However, it has got me wondering about the degree to which such ‘green’ transport can really solve the problems caused by the pressures placed upon our cities by the growth of car usage.

To reach work I need to travel from one side of the city to the other. I’m not sure it would be possible to travel further without leaving the city. I jump on a tram outside my door, change for the underground which takes me across the river and deep into the 22nd District and then I complete my journey with a 15 minute trip on the bus. At no point do I have to wait more than 6 minutes (an almost unheard of occurrence) and the whole journey takes between an hour to one hour fifteen minutes. At peak times there are additional trams and buses to help limit the overcrowding (it doesn’t unfortunately always alleviate the problem but I am always able to get on and it never reaches the London sardine level of commuting).

As a now regular service user I buy a month ticket for 48 Euro which gives me unlimited access to trams, buses and trains within the city. Day and weekly tickets work out noticeably more expensive. The visitor to the city is always best advised to go to a Trafik (Newsagents) to buy a day or week ticket as this is cheaper than purchasing a one on the tram or bus. For those of us who use a month ticket we have to remember to go to one of the main stations to make a purchase.

The transport system in Vienna does not have the same level of coverage in all areas. The ticket price increases over recent years have made travel more expensive. It is however a modern, effective and integrated system. It is also noticeable, in comparison with England, that public transport users are a more socially mixed group.

Of interest to those thinking of driving a car in Vienna it is worth noting that buses have the right of way when indicating to pull out (by law not custom). More importantly always watch for the trams. If you hit a tram it’s obviously going to be your fault, but if a tram hits you it’s also going to be your fault. The only really exception to this I would guess is if the tram driver manages to derail their vehicle, hurtle across the road and crashes into your parked car – yes this really happened last year.

 Since our return to Vienna R has passed regular comment on the cost of using trams and buses. She has been particularly frustrated that the Greens, on entering State government in Vienna (for the first time in any State in Federal Austria), have failed to fulfil their election promise to reduce the price of public transport. I quietly try to make the point that the price of agreeing to form a coalitions is that, in exchange for the chance to achieve some of your policies, you have to put aside your commitment to others.

So Vienna has an effective public transport system. It also has zonal parking charges in the central and some other areas, as well as expensive car parks. It’s also not unusual for larger shops to have their own underground cars park – with parking layouts that make it almost impossible for the average driver not to hit a pillar or wall. With all this infrastructure and policy Vienna still has a noticeable ‘car problem’. As the questions this raises form a greater itch under my skin, I think some further investigation of the realities of Vienna and comparison with other cities may be forthcoming.

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Filed under Green, The odd thought or observation, Transport, Vienna Life

Trying to look good in house shoes

It’s common place in Austria for people to wear house shoes (referred to as slippers in England) around the home. The same house shoes are also a requirement for children in schools. On entering her school H goes straight to her cloakroom and swaps her boots for house shoes before bouncing up the stairs to her classroom.

For H and her primary school friends house shoes represent no major issue. But consider the challenge for your average teenager seeking that cool swagger or disinterested slouch down a corridor. I leave you dear read to contemplate the challenge and the effort required (and sometimes achieved) to secure the required look. For the rest of us whether at home or in public the house shoe produces a distinctive shuffle but does help to keep the floors clean.

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Filed under Schools, Vienna Life

Discovering Protestant Austria

As I travelled around the Ramsau and surrounding area, during our New Year break, I was surprised to see a number of Protestant churches. Now Protestant churches are not a common sight in Roman Catholic Austria and my interest was sufficiently aroused to briefly divert my energies away from my eternal hunt for another good coffee and my interest of that moment – photographing the amazing landscapes.

After a little research involving actually reading some of the local literature, I quickly discovered that I was staying in one of the few thoroughly Protestant communities in Austria. A little further research stirred distance memories of history lessons on the subject of the Reformation and a little internet reading reminded me that this part of the world provided strongholds for both Lutheranism and the Anabaptists. I also discovered that the Ramsau area during the 16th Century had been part of the Salzburg principality which was itself not part of Austria.

The fate of Protestantism in the 16th Century was decided at the Battle of White Mountain on the 8th November 1620 and Protestantism was only legalised in Austria through Joseph II’s ‘Edict of Toleration’ in 1781. It seems that the isolated Ramsau was able to weather the Counter Reformation and ongoing percussion, remaining a Protestant community to this day.

Although H is an Austrian citizen she is also an Anglican. One consequence of this is that she does not attend (Catholic) Religion classes at school. H is delighted to be, in this instance, of the ‘Protestant’ persuasion as it means she finishes school a hour earlier twice a week.  

Approximately 4.7% of the Austrian population are said to be Protestant. According to the 2001 census, 73.6% of the country’s population described themselves as Roman Catholic and a further   4.2% of the population described themselves as Muslim. I recently read a report that 87,000 people left the Catholic Church in Austria during 2010 – membership being a formal process including payments to the Church hence the reporting of ‘resignations’. These figures, the report stated means that 65% of the overall 8.5 million people living in Austria are (formally) Catholics, down from 89 per cent in 1961. It seems with the current levels of exodus and the fact that immigrants to Austria tend not to be Roman Catholic, the percentage of (formal) Roman Catholics in Austria may decrease to below 50 per cent in 20 years.

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Filed under Religon, Vienna Life

Walking above the clouds

I’m never really sure what to expect when taking a cable car with the skiers to the top of a mountain. My previous experiences have included finding myself with no choice other than to slide down a ski slope to get to the walking path half a mile away, standing in a blizzard dodging snowboarders or more often finding myself sitting in a hut with a coffee whilst looking out upon the landscape below. However, the Dachstein glacier provided the family with the chance to enjoy a walk across some truly beautiful scenery.

It took a little while for me to drive the car up the icy road to the cable car station. Whilst the locals and regular skiers negotiated the mountain road with skill and speed, our car ascended with the speed of an ancient tortoise. The ease with which I could observe the views below and the way in which the wheels of my car kept sliding towards the outer edge of the road produced an endless commentary from yours truly and a driving technique reminiscent of a newly qualified driver. From the way most other vehicles were taking the road my inexperience in such conditions was probably making hard work of the drive but at least I felt better doing it my way and reaching our destination in one piece.

After leaving the cable car station and negotiating our way past the ski slopes, we found ourselves able to walk across the glacier and enjoying a landscape of snow, mountain tops and below us the ever shifting clouds.

On returning to the cable car station we quickly found a seat in the restaurant for the obligatory coffee and strudel.


Filed under Out and about in Steiermark, Vienna Life

‘Not so bad – for an Englishman’

‘You know he’s not really so bad’ said the Cross Country skiing instructor as he turned his attention back to R and then added ‘for an Englishman’. The aforementioned Englishman was of course yours truly and at the time I was gracefully travelling through the air before once again landing on my rear end. Snow I was discovering can be as hard as concrete.

We were in the Ramsau am Dachstein for the New Year.  Although an area in the (northern part) of the State of Steiermark, about 3 ½ to 4 hours from Vienna, it is closer to Salzburg than Graz. The Ramsau, I was to discover, is both an area of natural beauty and one very large winter playground.

Like many (but certainly not all) of my compatriots my expertise when it comes to the mastery of winter sports is close to zero. My normal approach to our winter trips to the mountains is to follow R and H to the bottom of the downhill ski slope, wish them well and then rapidly retreat to the warmth of the nearest hut serving coffee. You will be pleased to hear that at various stages in our holiday this civilised division of labour/enjoyment (delete as you feel appropriate) was maintained. Indeed the staff of one such establishment rapidly became accustomed to my visits and black coffee was swiftly provided upon my taking a seat.

However, the Ramsau offers a range of skiing and other winter entertainments including good opportunities for Cross Country (CC) skiing. From a distance CC appears to be a rather simple and therefore accessible form of the sport. I was particularly attracted by the idea of not balancing precariously on skis whilst standing on a 45 degree slope. I did, none the less, have enough sense of self preservation to insist that we get some professional instruction before I went any further in agreeing to R’s suggestion of a little family CC expedition.

So it came to pass that one morning I found myself standing on skis about to receive my first and possibly last CC lesson. The opening ten minutes produced a few surprises and painful confirmations. The first surprise was that both R and H, who are capable downhill skiers, found the CC form of the sport more challenging than they had expected. I on other hand rapid became reacquainted with the reality that what little sense of balance I possess all but disappears once my feet become attached to skis. The next shock to my system was that what at a distance had looked like a gently stroll, with sticks to balance you, turned out to be an energetic activity which requires you to essentially run on skis. This presented me with two significant challenges. Firstly, how to run and balance for two hours with a body whose level of fitness is not shall we say what it used to be. Secondly, how the hell to run whilst leaning forward and not fall flat on my face. In my now long distant youth I was in fact a reasonably accomplished long distance runner and like many such athletes had (have) a rather up right and lopping style of running. Hence my increasing difficulties and strong urge to be somewhere else as my instructor continued to insist that it was a simple matter of a smooth forward leaning running action.

Our instructor, in order to give himself time to actually teach the two members of our party with any degree of competence, sent me off to practice the technique of stopping whilst gliding down a slope. At the time I likened my performance to that of an elephant on skis but this may in fact fail to adequately describe the spectacle that was so amusing the onlookers. It was during this activity that the instructor made his comment to R ‘he’s not really so bad – for an Englishman’. It was also the point at which I found myself once more looking up at the clear blue sky and thinking of that seat and coffee at the bottom of the downhill ski slope.

I am pleased to report that I did complete my two hours and despite the bruises agreed to go CC skiing with R and H the following day.  I am sad to say that the sight of R falling over, as well as H and R discovering that they too had to learn this form of skiing, somehow made me feel better about my one pitiful efforts.

The first part of our CC trip, the follow day, went well with all of us managing a mile or more before being tempted by a coffee at a rather nice restaurant along our route. However, the second part of our journey involved skiing down a long slope and I discovered the ability to fall at speed over a rather long distance. Despite this I then managed to navigate my way down a slightly gentler slope and up the other side only to then land on my backside as I reach the top. Alas at this point I removed the skis from my feet and was last seen walking through deep snow with skis over my shoulder heading for the comfort of our bed and breakfast accommodation.


Filed under Out and about in Steiermark, Vienna Life