Spring Break on a Budget

Hello, all!

It’s been a while. Between midterms, spring break, and traveling, I have been one busy bee. I also still promise a cheese blog. I have been taking many photos and it will happen soon! In the meantime, this blog is about roaming around Austria on a budget. My sister came to visit me last Monday, so together we’ve done a little exploring and I figured I’d document our experience.

First, we tackled some of the Vienna basics (Stephansdom, Naschmarkt, and Cafe Central). We perused the first district, stumbled across some Easter markets (Easter is a big deal here), and ate many a pastry.

Stephansdom, first district.

Pastries and coffee at Cafe Central

Easter trinkets.

Eating Kaiserschmarrn (literally translates to “Emperor’s mess”) at an Easter market. This pancake dish is quite popular in Austria and is often paired with fruit or chocolate.

After touring Vienna for a while, we decided to head to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. This cute city is only about an hour from Vienna by bus and tickets were only 7 euros each way. The city contains a section known as Old Town where tourists meander through small shops, restaurants, and ice cream stands. A few funny statues color the cobblestone streets and we heard many languages besides Slovak. It seems to be a rather popular spot for visitors from all over.

The church of St. Elisabeth in Bratislava. The inside is blue too!

Old Bratislava

We also took a day trip to Melk (about 15 euros each way). This charming town lies near the Wachau region of Austria, where many vineyards grow. Melk is quite small (about 5,000 people as of 2012) and incredibly adorable. The downtown only takes about an hour to explore, but Melk Abbey, the highlight of the town, is worth taking an entire afternoon to tour. Aside from being absolutely stunning, the Abbey contains an incredible museum, with artifacts dating back to the 1100’s, and the most amazing library I have ever seen. Apart from some very elaborate ceiling frescoes, the library contains hundreds of old manuscripts and leads to a red marbled church with more gold plating than you can imagine and a few displays containing bones of old saints. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos in the church, library, or museum.

As hard as it was to leave the abbey, we walked downtown again after a few hours to rent bikes. We biked along the Danube which borders Melk and happened upon a castle which we later found out dated back to Roman times. Overall, Melk was a splendid trip and I would highly recommend it to anyone who ever stays in Vienna.

We meant to travel to Budapest as well, but I unfortunately came down with some sort of cold. Despite the fact that I am currently sick in bed, I hope to head there on my own next weekend or the weekend after and report back! Until then, warm wishes from Austria!

 

A castle on the Danube.

Downtown Melk.

We made a friend walking up to the Abbey.

A bug hotel.

Melk Abbey

Melk Abbey.

A neat staircase in Melk Abbey.

Kaffee und Kuchen

Ok, I promised photos of cake and coffee and pastries, so here you go!

This week I want to talk about Austrian work-life balance. One thing I have really enjoyed about Austria is that maintaining a healthy well being seems to be a much higher priority than it is in the states. Enjoying leisure time is encouraged both in practice and policy. For example, in the US there are no federal requirements for paid vacation days or public holidays. This of course varies from employer to employer, but theoretically you could end up with no paid vacation days or public holidays. In contrast, Austrian law mandates a minimum of 5 weeks of paid leave. Yes, WEEKS. This is comprised of 13 paid public holidays and 25 days of paid vacation. If you’ve been working somewhere for 25 years, that number goes up to 30 days of paid vacation.  In regards to parental leave, it gets even better. Mothers are required to cease work  (while receiving payment) for the 8 weeks leading up to the birth of their child as well as the 8 weeks after. You can opt for more time after that (up to your child’s second birthday) but I’m pretty sure that payment situation changes. Either way, it’s a pretty amazing system.

While these policies are great, none of them particularly effect me. However, I have certainly enjoyed Austrian cafe culture, which I think is also reflective of Austria’s respect for work-life balance. Things work a bit differently in your average Austrian coffee shop. Firstly, you’re expected to stay as long as you want. Because waiters here have steadier wages and do not rely on tips, no one will try and hurry you out. Even if you’re done with your drinks and pastries and the waiter comes to take the plates, they will not automatically bring your bill. You have to ask for it. So unless you want to leave, you can just sit back and relax. It isn’t unusual for people to spend a few hours chatting with their friends in a cafe. Similarly, cafe-going is practically encouraged. Late afternoon is widely accepted as a time for cake and coffee (Kaffee und Kuchen). As a steadfast cake lover I have utilized this time wisely.

Finally, I promised you photos, so here’s a little photo compilation of pastries and drinks from Vienna!

Not sure when I’ll be blogging next due to midterms and papers, but I will for sure have some updates soon!

Krapfen (basically Viennese jelly-filled donuts).

Hot chocolate.

Some cute petite fours.

Good lookin’ latte.

More yummy caffeine.

 

The Austrian Healthcare System

Okay, I have been incommunicado recently (partially due to the fact that I broke my phone). As a result, I do not have access to a lot of photos from recent adventures and I haven’t been exploring because I don’t have Google Maps and I am directionally challenged without it. So this week I won’t be covering personal experiences. Instead, I’d like to talk about some things that Austria, as a country, does really well. I’m not trying to bash on the US (although I admit that I am not particularly patriotic), but there are a few things here that we could really learn from. There has been some political turmoil in Austria as of late (involving the far right party) which merits its own discussion, but I am primarily interested in policies that have been around for a number of years so current events won’t make it into this post. Since there is a lot to talk about, I’ll be devoting two different blogs to discuss various policies. Next time I plan to discuss Austrian work-life balance, but today’s post is all about health care.

I would say my info is fairly credible (i.e. I used government sites for most of my statistics but also perused the Wikipedia pages for part of this).

Most of you probably have first hand experience navigating the bureaucratic circus that is the American healthcare system (or lack thereof). You probably do not need me to tell you that it is a nightmare, so I’ll skip that part and we can count that statement as a given assumption.

Unlike the US, Austria actually recognizes health care as a basic human right. This was proclaimed in 1956 with the passage of the General Social Insurance Law (ASVG). Everyone is automatically registered for health care upon employment and the coverage offered is expansive (unrestricted hopsital care, preventative check ups, etc). The insurance card also covers pensions and unemployment (as well as insurance for your dependants, should you have any). However, Austrian health care is a two tiered system. On one hand, there exists the publicly funded health care mandated by the ASVG and on the other hand there exists private health insurance which one may solely rely on or simply use in a supplementary manner.

The public system operates in a sort of decentralized manner. The federal government handles funding of the Austrian health care system and develops services that are implemented by the nine provinces of Austria which are in charge of managing and providing care in their respective regions. While this decentralized method of distributing power can be difficult (e.g. American Federalism) Austrian health care is spectacular and the system appears to work well. There are of course issues with the Austrian health care system such as health care access for the homeless, wait times for various procedures, etc. But it is nice to be living in a place that actually values the health of its citizens*. In the states, the concept of sustaining a life threatening injury produces anxiety about both survival and associated health care costs. It feels wrong that someone subjected to suffering should then be faced with significant financial burden and it is comforting to be in a place where this is not the case.

*In 2000, the World Health Organization released international rankings of health care systems by country. It is worth noting that the U.S. was ranked in 37th place while Austria came in 9th.

 

Though this post is devoid of photos and colorful anecdotes, I think discussing Austrian policies and politics is a good way to paint an accurate picture of the country itself. I do not want to spend four months here only to regard Vienna as a vacation destination and neglect to address  what goes on in this city and country aside from the beautiful churches, cafes, and concert halls. While the touristy aspects of Austria have been fun to explore, writing more informational pieces on Austria is kind of my way of digging below the surface and better understanding the environment I am in.

That being said, my next post will be similarly informational, but I promise there will be photos of cake, so stay tuned!

 

Salzburg, München und Prag

 

Okay, get ready for a lot of photos!

This past week my housemate (Naomi) and I hopped from Salzburg, to Munich, to Prague. We took the Flixbus everywhere (would recommend) and stayed in hostels in Salzburg and Munich. A fellow Whittie was kind enough to let us stay with him and his host family in Prague (shout out to Lukas Koester and his host dad, Radim)!

We arrived in Salzburg on Monday, and while the town looks much different in the winter, the hills were certainly alive with the sound of music. We explored the house where Mozart was born, the Mirabell Palace (where parts of the Sound of Music were filmed), and bought brioche buns at the oldest bakery in Salzburg which dates to the 12th century. My favorite part of the journey was our trek up the hillside to the Hohensalzburg Castle. Construction of the castle began in 1077. From what I understand, the castle was home to a series of Prince-Archbishops until the 19th century. Numerous additions and repairs have been made over the years, but the Hohensalzburger remains one of the largest and best-preserved Medieval castles in Europe. There were a few museums inside, some including incredibly old original castle objects such as torture devices, coins, and pottery. There was also a tour which led us to the top of the castle lookout tower, revealing a breathtaking 360 degree view of Salzburg. Many stairs were climbed during our castle expedition and we returned to our hostel exhausted.

Salzburg (the Hohensalzburger is on the hill)

View from the fortress (Hohensalzburg Castle)

We woke up the next morning at 6 a.m. to catch our bus to Munich. We were only in Munich for a day, but we managed to walk 10 miles, explore downtown, the outdoor market, multiple churches, an infamous pub, and the old royal palace. We also, of course, bought pretzels because going to Germany doesn’t count until you’ve had a pretzel. Munich was certainly worth seeing and I’d love to return for a longer stay sometime.

 

Hofbräuhaus, a 16th century beer hall which specializes in serving full liters of beer as well as pretzels the size of your head (Munich)

Munich views

After our single night in Munich we took yet another bus to Prague. We were lucky enough to stay at the edge of the city with Lukas Koester, who is studying film in the city, and his host dad, Radim. It was certainly an interesting experience. We tried traditional Czech food and ended up in a drumming circle in the back of a tea house/hookah lounge on our first night. After that we had two full days to explore. We crossed Charles Bridge a few times (the foundation of which dates back to 1357), and walked around Old Town as well as part of the Jewish Quarter. Prague is rich with Jewish history and the Old-New Synagogue which we visited (and which opened in 1270) was surprisingly well preserved. We stopped for lunch at a traditional Czech place and tried fried cheese, bread dumplings, and potato dumplings.

We met up with another housemate, Abbie, and ended up at the Franz Kafka museum toward the end of the day. Weirdly enough, I found out that Kafka belonged to the same intellectual society as Einstein. Rudolph Steiner, whose philosophy shaped Waldorf education, was also part of this society. I attended Waldorf school for 9 years, so I was pretty stoked about that. After our museum excursions and a brief visit to a wonderful Gingerbread store, which was nothing short of olfactory heaven, we headed home for the night.

During the second day we visited Prague Castle which houses the breathtaking St. Vitus Cathedral as well as Kafka’s old house and the Lobkowicz Palace. The Palace contains hundreds of medieval relics (art, armour, torture instruments, musical instruments, etc.) as well as original manuscripts of Mozart and Beethoven. I may have shed a tear when I found the score for Beethoven’s 5th, but luckily my housemates are also musicians so no one mocked me for it.

Prague Castle is also home to many other attractions and would probably take two full days to explore. Unforunately, we only had one and we headed home after poking around for 5 hours.

 

 

John Lennon Wall, Prague

Trdelnik, street food in Prague

St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague

Prague at night

We made it back to Vienna on Sunday and began classes today! It’s gearing up to be a busy semester, but even after exploring three other amazing cities, there is nowhere I would rather be. I also have noted three different European phenomenons which appear to be unbounded by country borders. The first is PDA. Good lord, I have never seen so many public, tongue-y makeout sessions. Frankly, I’m not a fan of it, but hey, at least people are having a good time. The second phenomenon is fuzzy sleeping bags in strollers to keep children warm. They are adorable and appear to be effective. The U.S. should really catch on to the trend. The third is Billa, a grocery store chain, which stood as a pillar of familiarity and comfort in every city we visited.

Anyway, I am at about a thousand words (which for some reason is very easy to write unless I am working on an essay) so I should probably stop typing due to the fact that most people proabably just skimmed the pictures anyway. I still promise to deliver a blog on cheese. It will happen, eventually. I just keep forgetting to take photos of the cheese before I eat all of it, so as a result I have only photographed two of the cheeses I have sampled. Someone told me that there are four types of tourists: the traveler, the shopper, the partier, and the foodie. I originally thought of myself as a traveler, but I’m starting to think I’m also a bit of a foodie.

Anyway, that’s enough for now!

Until next week!

Having a Ball!

Hello, friends (or random Facebook acquaintances who enjoy study abroad blogs)! I meant to post earlier, but I’ve been swept up in composing as well as exploring  the city and shirking my obligation to study for my German 101 exams. We had an oral midterm yesterday and a written one today. Now that they’re both over with, I figure it’s fine time for a blog. For those of you who missed my last blog and need some filling in, I shall summarize by saying that I am in Vienna studying music and psychology for the semester.

While I still promise you a blog on Austrian work/leisure balance as well as a blog about cheese (I have been documenting and photographing the cheese that I buy each week), this week I’ll be talking about Viennese ball season!

First of all, I love balls. And if you have the sense of humor of a 13 year old boy (as I do), that sentence probably makes you giggle. But for real, ball season here is pretty cool. Every spring there are hundreds of balls which take place around the city. Many are centered around specific professional groups, such as the Vienna Opera Ball or the Vienna Ball of Coffee Brewers. According to my brief internet research, Viennese ball culture is rooted in the early 19th century when the Congress of Vienna first convened in 1815. The Congress of Vienna was held by the four European powers which had defeated Napoleon (Russia, Great Britain, Austria, and Prussia) in an effort to renegotiate the distribution of power in Europe and maintain peace. Because meetings of wealthy white men making decisions that radically effect the lives of others who have no representation in the decision making process tend to be rather drab (and, dare I say it, outdated, despite the fact that this STILL seems to be how the US Congress decides what I can do with my body), balls were established to keep the guests of the Viennese Congress entertained. The waltz caught on and never rubbed off, so over 200 years later the good people of Vienna are still spinning around the dance floor in three-four time.

Fortunately, I was able to attend the Technical University Ball in the Hofburg palace (shout out to the IES program for getting us discounted tickets)  and it was straight out of a fairy tale. Because I’m bad at describing things and a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s nine thousand words worth of photos for you to peruse.

 

The main dance hall

On the red carpet with three of my lovely housemates. Our wonderful green-haired fourth housemate was at the Opera, but with us in spirit.

Getting ready: outtakes

We’re a fun house, if you couldn’t already tell

Good lookin’ ceilings

The jazz room

Exterior of the Hofburg

Opening ceremonies

We stayed at the ball until about 1:30am. Balls go pretty late into the night and this one went on until like 4:30 am. I have no idea how anyone wearing high heels would manage to stay that long, but I applaud anyone who did. Overall it was a pretty neat experience. I only danced a little, but it was fun to see older couples showing off their expert moves. Different rooms were designated for different types of dancing and music so there was a lot to see. There was also a live concert at the beginning of the opening ceremonies. They played parts of Ode to Joy, the Austrian national anthem, and, to my surprise and delight, the Star Wars theme.

In other news, now that my German intensive is over and midterms are complete, I’m gearing up to start a full load of classes. I’m taking an acoustics and sound recording class, music history, composition, German, and a psychology class. I will also be working in the IES library. I have an entire week off before everything starts up. Tomorrow I’ll be hopping on a bus to Graz before heading to Salzburg, Munich, and Prague. I’ll try my best to document those adventures as well!

Auf Wiedersehen until next time!

Hallo!!!

Hallo und grüß Gott from Wien!

I’ve been incommunicado the past few days, but now that I’m settled I figured it was finally time to sit down and check in! A little about what I’m up to:

On January 13th I hopped on a plane with a semester’s worth of clothing and a stack of blank staff paper to study music and psychology in Vienna as part of the IES Abroad Music in Vienna program. For those of you who don’t know, Vienna is located in Austria and is home to about 1.8 million people. The city is divided into 23 districts which are arranged in a sort of spiral shape with District 1 at the very center. Vienna is often referred to as the city of music and has been home to many notable composers. If you’re interested in the music scene, I plan on attending as many concerts as possible (I even plan on braving a few hours of opera) so I’ll be sure to cover some of these adventures in future blogs!

Anyway, we (the IES students) had a 3 day orientation in a hotel at the edge of the city in District 11. Opportunities for exploring were fairly limited during this time but I managed to squeeze in a few exploratory walks. My first excursion was brief; a group of jet lagged IES students and I ended up in a fast food place where I bought a falafel and encountered the Austrian phenomenon of corn-topped pizza. Aside from my mundane food discoveries, I also poked around a few shopping malls and happened upon the city cemetery. Most of my time, however, was spent in mandatory and lengthy IES information sessions.

City cemetery

Orientation is (quite thankfully) over and I moved into my apartment two days ago. I’m living with four other girls from different schools across the US (all musicians!) and a wonderful RA (a Resident Austrian) named Susanne. We have an amazing practice facility on the corner of the building with 7 sound proof practice rooms, each with a glossy upright piano. The fifth district is much closer to the center of the city (20 minutes by U-Bahn/subway) and I’ve finally been able to get a better look at things.

So far we’ve visited the Palais Corbelli where I will be taking classes (you read that right, I am taking classes in an old palace) and perused the surrounding shopping areas. I’ve only just begun exploring so I don’t have much to report at the moment, but I will say that the architecture of the city is stunning. Even the exterior of McDonald’s is nice to look at (and their veggie burgers are equally nice to eat)!

Perusing District 1

 

Biscuit shop, District 1.

Winter sunshine in District 1.

Flower stand in District 1.

Daily commute to class.

High end shopping.

Austrian falafel: five stars *****!!!

After I establish a more concrete routine I look forward to posting some more creative and culturally exploratory blogs! I’m really interested in how Austrian culture balances leisure time and self care with work. I also plan on devoting an entire blog to cheese. Anyway, stay tuned for more! Auf Wiedersehen and happy spring semester!

 

 

 

*Special thanks to Hannie, my lovely housemate, for being a photographer and lending me a few shots!