We left for Vienna on December 24. We hadn’t been in Vienna for quite a while – we changed trains there in the summer but didn’t stay over night. We spent a single night there on the way to a wedding in June. But I think the last holiday in Vienna was a long weekend in March, when the triplets celebrated their second birthday.
So, as usual, we spent the week in a hectic blur of food and people. We met with my family on the 26th, Gergö’s family on the 29th and friends on all the other days. We were staying in the 7th district, very centrally and close to Mariahilfer Straße, which is a big shopping street. There were trams and the most useful of all busses, the 13A really close by. So I had the opportunity to play a lot of Pokemon Go during my week in Vienna. I could turn a lot of Pokestops on the tram and bus and hatch eggs and even put the occasional Pokemon in an arena.
I also went shopping – we found ourselves with a couple of hours to spend right on the biggest shopping street of Vienna. I bought a ridiculously huge dark red down coat. It even has fleece lined pockets! Several people commented on the size of it and how I look like Bibendum (the official name of the Michelin man, as I recently learned on twitter). I would have preferred it in black, obviously, but it was the red one that was 60% off, so I will be snug and smug in my ridiculous enormous coat.
Despite my declared dislike for Christmas markets, I managed to visit two in my week in Vienna.
Because we met with so many people we went to a lot of cafés and restaurants. And people in Vienna still smoke inside. We had brunch at a place that is non-smoking for breakfast, but it reeked of smoke from the night before. And even weirder: there are little stickers to show if a place is smoking or non-smoking or both and the non-smoking stickers are red and the “smoking is allowed” stickers are green.
When we visited some friends in the 14th district they told us that they have a Chinese restaurant around the corner that they’d love to try, but you are allowed to smoke inside. And as we walked past the restaurant we all glanced inside and there really were people smoking away at the restaurant tables. Very unreal.
I noticed two other things I apparently really got used to in France: When you enter a restaurant or bar or brasserie or café in Paris, in most cases you wait to be seated. Sometimes you are told: sit wherever you like but mostly you are seated. I went to a café with a friend and there were people waiting for a table that was about to become free and my friend suggested to look around for a table for two. I wanted to say something like “surely we’ll be seated right after them” when I realised: nobody cares where/if we find a place, it’s everybody for themselves in here.
Then I, the person to stop at red lights in Paris, found myself impatiently crossing at red in Vienna – with the exact same excuse as everyone here: There was no traffic! There’s really no point in waiting around at a red traffic light if there are no cars! And I promptly crossed the road in plain view of the police while looking in their direction. I didn’t get a ticket, though. Probably because it was in the middle of the night and there really was no other traffic. And today I almost got run over by a motorcycle because I was so busy avoiding Puddles (and checking Pokemon Go on my phone) I didn’t see that the light had turned red again.
I also noticed things that changed in Vienna: There are far fewer firecrackers before New Year’s Eve. When I lived across a playground in the 2000s, it felt like the teenagers from the school around the corner tried to blow themselves up every day of December. And it was still bad a few years ago, when we looked after Gergö’s former dog. Now it’s much quieter and I only heard firecrackers on the 30th and 31st. All that’s left to learn for Austrians is that the firework starts at midnight.
In a weird counter example to my experience in Viennese cafés, I saw a queue in front of café Sperl on Gumpendorfer Straße. People were actually standing outside in the cold waiting to have coffee in there. It seemed ludicrous to me. I remember Sperl as the place with the most worn down leather chairs and grumpiest waitresses and it was really smoky, too, though that may have changed since I last went there (in 2008 maybe?). I bet the café is mentioned in a guide book as the real Viennese experience and that makes people willing to queue for overpriced coffee.
Luckily we got to see a lot of my nieces, the triplets, as well. They love to sing right now and will burst into strange songs at any occasion. When we had a playdate with friends who have a daughter of the same age, two of them grabbed hold of railings in the hallway, dangled from them and sang “Hoch sollst du leben / an der Decke kleben / runterfallen, Popschi knallen / so ist das Leben” (“you shall be celebrated / stick to the ceiling / fall down, hurt your bum / that’s life” – I just checked, there’s a category called birthday songs on Wikipedia, but the original version of this song is missing, just like the children’s version).
Anyway, everytime they sang “runterfallen” they let themselves drop to the floor. Songs seem to be a way to get them to do stuff – as long as it’s not being quiet. There’s a song about a bear sleeping where they will immediately lie down and pretend to be a sleeping bear. They even include the snoring noises sometimes. The trouble is it goes on: the bear wakes up and then hops, hops, hops, or stamps, stamps, stamps, or dances, dances, dances all day long.
The apartment complex where my sister lives has communal spaces. We took the kids’ new train set and went to the “theatre”. It’s just a big room that could be used as a stage. Not half as fancy as the cinema room or the communal kitchen. The theatre just had the problem that the lights went out every 5 minutes. Whenever that happened H. would scream, get up and run towards the sensor, while I. spontaneously started to sing Bruder Jakob / Frère Jacques. She even sang it in French, well, an approximation of it.
We also went to the climbing room. The girls would have preferred the slide room, but they are still a bit too small to climb the ladders alone and we wouldn’t fit in the slides in case they got scared and needed support. The climbing room is mostly interesting for the big mat that covers most of its floor. While two of the kids ran around playing catch and doing summersaults, A. rearranged our coats and played with my handbag. I gave it to her thinking there’s nothing in there that could break. She promptly took out the USB cable and stuck the micro-USB end into the regular one. “That works?”, my sister asked. “Only with force.”
I showed her how to plug it into my external battery instead – I figured it might save her hours of time if she learns early on how to plug in a USB cable the right way up.
When it was time to brush their teeth before bed, they weren’t impressed my by rendition of “Zähneputzen, zähneputzen, das wird deinen Zähnen nutzen” though. I didn’t think anybody else knew this song. We had to sing it in kindergarten while the other kids brushed their teeth until it was our turn at the sink. Now I googled it and apparently it’s a thing to motivate kids to brush their teeth. Well, it didn’t work.
Later in the week we met with Gergö’s family, including his two nephews. His brother was impressed how much more experience we have with little kids now (“please sit down on the chair to drink”, “use both hands to hold the glass!”, “Ok, I’ll walk up and down the stairs with you, but you have to hold my hand!”). It was also the one and only occasion for me to impress someone with Pokemon Go. The 5-year-old was interested in the game, and duly impressed by my Pikachu wearing a Santa hat and my strongest Pokemon, a Tyranitar with over 3000 CP. He even caught a Sentrett while we waited for the train and only needed 5 or 6 Pokeballs to do it. Most grown ups’ reaction is “Somebody is still playing this?”
We also met his other brother’s fiancée. But Gergö didn’t get a chance to talk much or ask about the dress code for the upcoming wedding because his crown came loose. So we spent the evening at the dentist on weekend duty.
It wasn’t really how I wanted to spend the evening, but it could have been much worse. Across from us in the waiting room was a girl with her parents whose horse had kicked her in the face. Her dad carried bits of her front teeth in a tupperware container.
While I was waiting for Gergö to finish two young men showed up – one had a toothache, the other came to help with translation. When they struggled with the information form I offered my cell phone as a dictionary. They had brought their own, but readily introduced themselves – (Hello, I’m XYZ from Syria!) And while the translator’s German was pretty good, they were happy to have some help with words like Herzschrittmacher/pacemaker, Spritze/injection and the like.
The doctor glued Gergös crown back into place and most of the visit was spent waiting for the cement to dry. And it was also fairly low on bureaucracy for Gergö: He filled out two forms with the data on his European health insurance card and didn’t have to pay anything. He reckons there will be a bill from his French insurance at some point.