Travelling is fun

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Even though I’ve been here in Germany for nearly four years now I still feel like a tourist occasionally. Just with the difference that I haven’t managed to explore my immediate surroundings more thoroughly to do some serious sightseeing right here but instead take day trips to other historic towns or castles. But day trips are nothing compared to the real travel experience. Travelling and being a tourist is exciting and fun! Why?

  • You get to see new places! Places and sights not even the locals know about or have ever visited! (I’m the best example! Let me loose in any place and I’m in sightseeing heaven! On the other hand, I have never been to some of the most prominent sights in my home town! Yep, crazy! Once again!)
  • You get to experience new cultures! Except if you decide to spend your vacation in an all-inclusive club where you feel like home with your fellow country-men and you wonder why you even bothered to travel thousands of miles just to have a slight change of scenery!
  • You get to eat strange food! Oh boy! And how strange that food can be! You wouldn’t believe what some countries consider as delicacies! Asian and Middle Eastern countries seem to have the weirdest combinations! Snakes, monkeys, dogs, sheep eyes, bull’s balls, intestines, rotten fish … and yes, some of those can even be found in the more Western hemisphere. You better not look too closely and never ever ask what you’ve ordered …
  • You get to sleep in nice hotels! At least you thought so when you booked your trip months ago. What you certainly didn’t expect are lumpy mattresses, musty pillows, mouldy bathrooms, dirty swimming pools, construction noise in the middle of the night and cockroaches / ants / ___________ (insert any other crawling thing you can think of) crossing your room at least twice a day, regularly like clockwork. By the way, let me just add, that’s certainly what you get if you are gullible (I wouldn’t dare say stupid) enough to vacation in countries where a 3-star hotel is worse than a youth hostel.
  • You get to behave like you’d never behave at home. Singing and dancing on the bar totally drunk, maybe adding a little striptease? Hey, who cares, you are on vacation! No one knows you! (You might just become the latest Facebook or YouTube star!) Complaining about everyone and everything? You paid for it, so you have the right to annoy the hotel personnel! Piling as much buffet food as possible onto your plate, only to realize you don’t even like half of what you’ve piled on? Okay, maybe you’d do that at home too!
  • You get to wear those cute – but too tight – tank tops, colourful shirts and shorts you only dig out of your closet for your vacation. (Since you wouldn’t be caught dead seen in them in your home town!) But at least they are worn once a year! Together with those white tennis socks and even whiter sneakers!
  • You get to buy souvenirs! (My favourite part!) What would be a vacation if you didn’t bring home some typical gifts – usually NOT produced in the country you are currently in – for those who weren’t lucky enough to travel abroad? Your friends will be thrilled and love you so much for another useless piece to dust off and display just for you on your visits!
  • You get to make lots of pictures of everything and everyone from every possible angle no one really wants to see at home! But don’t be sad! They are just jealous! (And will repay your lengthy presentations with their own vacation pictures! So, there you have it!)

Have I ruined travelling for you now? I hope not! I, for once, am still a traveller at heart and I promise, I really do, to finally get some sightseeing done here as well!

Culinary delights

As you know I’m living in Germany now. Have been for the past years. And let me tell you, it was a culture shock, especially when it came to food. Hard to believe, is it? After all, we are neighbouring countries, speaking the same language … well, kind of. But we do understand each other most of the time. (If not I just nod enthusiastically, smile and say something like “yes, that’s right”. Works every time!)

When it comes to food I regularly get bouts of goose bumps and severe shuddering, making me wonder how I will ever survive German culinary delights.

1.) Schnitzel: Austria is famous for crisp and wonderful Schnitzel. With the simple sides of potato salad (without mayo, mayo is a definite no-go), French fries, potatoes with parsley or pea rice. Imagine my goose bump moment the first time I saw strange tomato or champignon sauces poured on top of the crisp bread crumb coating, soaking everything through. I couldn’t look. I really couldn’t. These poor Schnitzels, what a crime to have them suffer such mistreatment.

Once, it must have been in the first couple of months here, I was very adventurously buying a schnitzel with cauliflower on top, gratinated with cheese, at a hot food counter. Oh boy, mistake, big mistake … because what couldn’t be seen underneath the cheese was a huge serving of sauce hollandaise covering the cauliflower. I still shudder just thinking about it. And that was over three years ago!

2.) Speaking of sauce hollandaise … it seems every vegetable side dish is swimming in it, which is so unnecessarily cruel to the poor limp broccoli, carrots, peas, beans, cauliflower. I have learned to think ahead when ordering and add my cute Austrian touch by telling them in a strict disgusted voice, “no sauce hollandaise, please!”

The only vegetable deserving this low in calories sauce is asparagus. But only that! Everything else … don’t let me say it again, it’s just too horrible!

3.) Another German weirdness is curry ketchup. Basically the secret of the world famous German curry sausage is the red tomato curry sauce resembling hot curry ketchup. Well, “Currywurst” is a delicious dish in its entire combination with crisp French fries on the side. But … imagine my surprise being served curry ketchup to a cordon bleu because “that’s the only ketchup we have”. And I’m not talking about being adventurously ordering a cordon bleu at a food cart (probably my schnitzel would have been better there too), but a higher priced restaurant. You should have seen my astonished facial expression …

4.) Since we’re talking about Ketchup! You could say I’m a ketchup connoisseur, my survival depends on it. My favourite is an Austrian brand called “Felix” and my first grocery shopping trip was not very successful in this regard. Imagine my surprise and despair when I had to discover that my brand was not available! What does one do in desperate times like these? Buying one bottle of every brand I could get to sample them …, in the hope to find an acceptable replacement. Yes, my dears, you are guessing absolutely right. My taste buds were very unhappy, and that’s an understatement! So, every year, when I come back from my weeklong Austria trip, half of my car is full of ketchup bottles … the other half is reserved for … other foods I can’t live without. (To the utter entertainment of my colleagues … but this will be the topic of another posting altogether.)

5.) Balsamic cream: I love balsamic vinegar. In every combination. With walnut flavour, honey, raspberry, plain … just love it and always have an assortment of various balsamic vinegars at home. And now get this: balsamic cream. Drizzled lovingly over every single dish that leaves the mediocre restaurant kitchen in order to “decorate” the food, may it be your soup, main course or dessert. It just looks sooo lovely … and tastes so incredibly vile. At least to those who have a little taste left. I’m trying to picture a passionate Italian cook, seeing a Caprese salad (mozzarella, tomato, basil, olive oil, red wine or balsamic vinegar) spoiled by … balsamic cream. Mamma mia!  È un orrore! I may not be Italian, but I still think it’s one of the worst food inventions ever.

6.) Apfelstrudel: an Austrian classic. With filo pastry dough, apples, raisins, bread crumbs. Puff pastry is a definite no-go and not fit to be called Apfelstrudel. Sadly, even in Austria you occasionally have to suffer this abomination!

7.) German bread: it’s either fluffy or pumpernickel. It took me three years to discover a bakery which has the kind of bread I’m used to: a compact sourdough rye bread which nearly tastes like my favourite Austrian bread. It’s an hour drive away, but I don’t care! Should I ever run out of the huge amounts of bread I import from Austria, I have a backup plan!

8.) How do you like your French fries? With plain salt, right? Me too! Just never get that here! They have this strange orange “French fry salt” which kind of tastes like chicken rub … so far I haven’t dared ordering my fries with plain salt. But it’s definitely on my schedule soon …

Oops, sorry! Hope I haven’t bored you too much with my culinary culture shock … I’ll post a very short one next week, I promise! Have a great culinary weekend!

Guys, this one is for you!

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Sometimes I can’t help thinking that I’m really strange. Reflecting on the past 20 years or so I realize that most of my closest and trusted friends have been and still are of the male species. (Probably comes with being stupid enough not having studied something more girl like but instead becoming an engineer!)

Some of them spent a certain chapter of my life with me, some are still here after many years and some have come into my life not too long ago. You all know who you are, I don’t have to name names. I just want to thank you all for being there for me!

2016 has not been my best year in oh so many ways, and so far 2017 hasn’t been much better! I know I was awful at times, moody, crying, unhappy, distraught.

Guys, thanks for not giving up on me, for listening to me complaining, letting me whine, cheering me up again and again, giving me advice and your understanding – either in person or via phone – and the occasional hug.

I don’t know what I would do without you cause you are basically the ones who have to put up with my often endless text messages about stuff that upsets me, about my thoughts, my feelings, my fears.

You are my rocks, my pillars of strength, coming in different sizes, building my support system, surrounding me with your friendships. Giving me the feeling I’m not alone. Even though you are either far away or time with you is precious and never enough! Thanks, guys! Just know that I’m there for you the way you are here for me …

Happy Easter, you all!

 

Living in Germany now I had to realize that Easter is not what I am and what I was used to! The Germans don’t really have those nice traditions we have in Austria and I always make sure to get the sausages and smoked ham when I’m in Austria to take back with me and freeze for the Easter time here in Germany.

I’ll let you be part of one Easter experience, something I wrote down at a time when both my parents were still alive. But which was still different, cause usually we all used to spend Easter with my aunt, uncle, grandmother and another aunt in Styria. In the year you will be reading about, actually it was 2008, it was different cause my parents were already sick, my mum still in rehab because of her hip replacement and my chemo receiving dad was home alone. So I went back home on “Green Thursday”, as it is called in Austria, and arrived in time for lunch which consisted of creamed spinach, roasted potato slices and eggs sunny side up. As is the tradition in Austria! And yes, I love creamed spinach! Always have, even as a kid … so my parents were really lucky with me not throwing the green mess around and having to scrape it off the kitchen walls!

Next on my dad’s and my schedule was decorating the Easter branches with blown out and coloured Easter eggs, collected over the years. And of course we still had to boil eggs and colour them! My dad was a professional Easter egg dyer, we even had a special pot and special large plastic spoons for the dying process. One colour wouldn’t do of course! Red, green, blue and purple were a must and the fresh coloured eggs had to be carefully rubbed with oil to make them all shiny!

Good Friday was fish day – and I bet everyone could hear me grumble all the way across Austria because I’m not the world’s biggest fish fan, avoiding it as much as possible. But traditions are traditions and I grudgingly at least had fish sticks while my dad enjoyed trout. The smell alone when he was cooking it made me want to flee the apartment and I was seriously tempted to buy a Kaiser roll with “Leberkäse” when I headed to the one and only butcher’s shop to buy smoked ham and sausages.

In Carinthia particularly it is the custom to bake a sweet yeast cake with raisins, honey and nuts. Quite a dry matter. And since only my father liked it we mainly went with sweet white bread instead. (With my dad hoping someone would bring over some yeast cake he was confident would be his only …)

While I was picking up my mum from the sanatorium my aunt and uncle arrived and it was like in the good old times – kind of. With lunch consisting of noodle soup, all of us anxiously waiting for the late afternoon when we could dig into the smoked Easter meat. My aunt and I packed up a basket with all the food and headed to church to have it blessed in a 15-minute-Easter-blessing-service. (The only time I don’t mind attending church!) Obviously I’m not the only one going to church just at Easter, cause together with Christmas service this is one of the few occasions the church is stuffed to the brim.

The minute we were back home we basically dug in, starting with a piece of dark bread and salt – another custom to remember what we have to be thankful for – and then … we ate, exchanged little gifts, drank beer and had fun pecking eggs. (I don’t know why I’m always losing!)

I miss those times incredibly, but life goes on and I try to keep our family traditions alive, even on my own.

An ode to my all time favourite TV series

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I’m in seventh heaven! Why? Because I have finally managed to connect my antiquated LCD TV with my DVD player AND the new receiver – which, compared to the old one – has two Scart connections again so that I don’t have to switch cables every time I want to watch a DVD. Yes, I know, my whole entertainment system is so out of date it’s scary. One of my colleagues constantly tries to convince me to finally invest in a “real” TV with all the fancy options like internet, HD and whatever else TVs nowadays can do short of cooking. Stubbornly I hold onto my TV set, which I inherited from my father and therefore is quite precious to me.

So, as you might have guessed, I’m still one of those few buying DVD boxes instead of streaming … and I love my DVDs. My absolute treasures are those series that were popular in my youth and even though I know every episode by heart I love watching them again and again and again. Well, since this posting is not about my ancient entertainment system but my all time favourite TV series and why I adore them so much, I’ll take you back in time. Back to the 80s, in fact. I remember being a little girl, allowed to watch pre-evening series running from Monday till Friday, 6:30 pm to 7:15 pm (remember those times when series episodes lasted 45 minutes instead of 40? Great times! Great times!). Austrian TV only had two channels, without disrupting commercial breaks every few minutes to enjoy full 45 minutes of pure series pleasures! Those were also those times when airing stopped around midnight until 9 am for the first channel and 4 pm for the second channel. Hard to believe, right?

Which made the pre-evening programme the highlight of my young childhood days. No matter which series, I watched whatever was on air in these 45 minutes. Older series like Bonanza and Star Trek as well as Falcon Crest, Knight Rider, Murder she wrote, Hotel, Love Boat, MacGyver, A-Team, Hardcastle & McCormick, Remington Steele … But, my absolute favourite TV series of all times has and will ever be “Hart to Hart”. Who can top self-made millionaire Robert “Jonathan Hart” Wagner and his sophisticated journalist wife Stefanie “Jennifer Hart” Powers. And Max! Charismatic, loyal friend and caretaker. Always there to slip into various roles and costumes to help Jonathan and Jennifer to catch another murderer. And then there’s Freeway, of course, the couple’s adorable dog, so cute and cuddly you just want to grab and have him for yourself, even though you are not a dog person.

Now, what’s so special about “Hart to Hart”? I mean, it’s just another detective series, with a couple, a dog, a butler and a murder every week. Not that original! But the chemistry between the main characters is! Love and humour is oozing from the screen and every little girl dreams of having such a relationship. At least I did and still do!

Watching the episodes again from time to time is always a happy return to my childhood and I have to smile when I see the fashion, cars, gadgets, appliances of the 80s which now seem so … lovingly out-of-date. Like the car phone! I always swore to myself that when I had a car myself, I would have one of those … who would have imagined something like smartphones in those days. But 30 years later I still adore the huge wardrobe. All those beautiful closets with beautiful gowns, the plush cream carpet, the mirrors, sink and vanity table … enough space for all my shoes … think I need some serious “Hart to Hart” time again to refresh my memory! Happy watching!

A new life

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There are periods in life where we have to start new. My first big change was moving out from home into my own apartment to start university in another town. The other big change was leaving my home country Austria to move to Germany due to work. Leaving everything behind, my friends, the tiny remains of my family since four of them alone had died in the course of four years … which made it easier for me to start fresh. Had I expected it to be that difficult? Certainly not! It’s never easy to start fresh, especially if you are doing it alone. I can’t even count the times I have been asked whether I have moved to Germany because of love. Nope, I haven’t.

I was offered an interesting job and I took the chance. And in hindsight, it was the best decision I could have made. Jumping into it with both feet first and no safety net. In the matter of a few weeks I had to organize everything, packed my car with the most essential stuff and took the long 9-hour-drive to far away Western Germany. Residing in a lovely 80s style furnished apartment for half a year – the “lovely” was meant to be a bit ironic – until I had found the perfect place to live. Which is when all the fun began … the big move from Austria, choosing furniture, taking care of insurances and all that stuff that needs to be done when you move and settle down somewhere else. What made me really sad, though, was having to give up my Austrian license plate. It was so nice driving around with it and more or less being the only one around having one. But, well, one has to fit in and my motto has always been, “If you do something, then do it right!” Or how about, “When in Rome do as the Romans do!” At least I try to … there are some things, however, I will always be too Austrian to let go. (And I already feel another posting coming up on this topic …)

The moving part, the working part … that was easy. Easy compared to having to build up a new social network, finding new friends since mine are far away and only available via phone, video phone or text messages. (Which is certainly easier than not too far back when landline – horribly expensive – and letter writing were your only means to stay in contact with people around the world!)

So, that’s the difficult part! And let’s face it, I’m not 20 anymore and everyone around me has settled down, with family and a social circle I don’t quite fit in. Sometimes I feel like an alien living the kind of life I live … but one day I’ll get there too, I hope …