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Greetings from Vienna, #31

July 20th, 2004


In this issue:

Greetings from Vienna
Part the Thirty-First, Just Keep Swimming

The weather has finally decided to become summer-like. The temperature has moved up into the mid-twenties (Centigrade) and even into the thirties. While not being cold is a good thing, we've now entered into the state of not wanting to be hot, without having had much of a chance to feel "just right". However, the heat did give us a chance to enact that venerable summer tradition, visiting the beach, which is just a subway's ride away....

Under the Boardwalk
Those of you with a historical or geographical bent might have noticed that Austria hasn't had a seacoast since the First World War. And in any case, Vienna itself is nowhere near the ocean. How then, you might ask, can it have a beach? Technically, it doesn't. However, it does have the Danube, which has been rerouted to create a pair of parallel channels, divided by a thirteen mile (about twenty-one kilometers) long strip of land known as the "Donauinsel" or "Danube Island". The northeastern channel is closed to commercial shipping traffic and has a slower flow, which makes it safe and warm enough for swimmers and sun worshippers. With the addition of paved paths, steps leading down into the water, benches, and other amenities one might find at a park or more common beach, the Donauinsel is a regular summer destination for Viennese residents and visitors alike.

And so Karin & I went to the Donauinsel over the weekend, packing a towel but no swimsuits as we just wanted to get our feet wet. All of our birthing classes in the pool have really given us a desire for regular visits to the water, and the Donauinsel has the virtue of being free (with a monthly pass to the public transport system, that is). Here are two views of the Donau and the Insel (on the right in both pictures):
IMG_4933_Donauinsel IMG_4931_millenium_tower_kahlenberg_leopoldsberg
The second picture shows Kahlenberg and Leopoldsberg, from which we've seen the Donauinsel. Check out issues #15, #17, and #18 for pictures of Kahlenberg and Leopoldsberg.

Her is Karin getting her feet wet at the Donauinsel:
Sorry, but I have no pictures of me getting my feet wet. I'll give the camera to Karin the next time we go.

Afterwards, we had savory "Palatschinken", which are thin pancakes (somewhere between a crepe an "American" pancake in thickness), rolled around some kind of filling, sweet or savory.[1] The classic dessert Palatschinken has marmalade, but chocolate is also common. We had curried chicken "Caribbean style" (Paul) and potatoes and salmon (Karin). It was a slightly rushed meal, as we were trying to catch a showing of "Shrek 2". We'd seen the first Shrek on DVD and I'd already seen "2" in English, so it was the German version for us. Two very enthusiastic thumbs up[2usa], by the way, from Karin and I. The new characters are great, though now I have to add "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" to the list of movies Karin should see.[3] For me, the most amazing thing about seeing the movie in German is that I actually could recognize the characters speaking with French and Spanish accents. Highly recommended; in any language.

Driving Mrs. Karin
I am not prepared to say anything along the lines of "X are better drivers than Y", so don't bother looking for that. I do, however, think that Austrian drivers are expected to "know" more rules than Americans.[4eng], which makes everything just a bit different. For example, there are three default speed limits in Austria: 50 kilometers per hour (kph) inside a city or town, 100 kph when outside city limits but on regular roads, and 130 kph when on the the highways. Except under special circumstances, these speed limits are never posted. What are posted are exceptions to these speed limits. So one might be driving along the freeway and see an "100" sign, which is clear enough, especially if there are other indications that one might want need to slow down. However, the same sign in gray with a black circle and slash through it might be clear in signaling that the 100 kph zone has ended, but it doesn't tell the uninformed driver what the new (or old) speed limit is.

This is just one of the things that is enormously confusing to United Statesian drivers, who are used to seeing speed limit signs everywhere, even on the freeways, where the exact same speed limit might be in effect for hundreds of miles. And the other signs that USA-ans are used to ignoring (unless they are trying to find a specific address) are those that denote the boundary to city limits. In Austria, these are effectively speed limit signs. Of course, instead of the white letters on green background signs common the States, Austrian city limit signs are rectangular, black letters on white background with a blue outline, which means that at least one American driver, yours truly, often mistakes them for roadside ads.

Of course, there are other differences: no turn on red, much more common use of roundabouts, reserved handicap parking tied to a specific license plate number. But as I said, I believe single most important difference is this expectation of knowing the speed limits innately and apply them on the fly.[5eng] I hope that once we're in the State, we'll get Karin to write about her experiences driving in American.

House Update
There's been quite a bit of progress at the house in the last week, though none of it was due to me. My father-in-law recruited Karin's brother, no stranger himself to remodeling, to help him with putting up more walls and sheet rock. The heating, contrary to my predictions last week, has only been partially installed, so we'll have more on that in the next issue. In the meantime, here are pictures of the newly sheet rocked living room and bathroom:
living_room_walls_pano karinLN_bathroom_walled_pano


That's all for now. Until next week.

Bis Bald,



[1] "Palatschinken": The first time I saw the word, the "-schinken" part really confused me, since "Schinken" means ham in German (or a "great tome", "large painting", or "epic film"), but the dish was listed with the desserts.

[2] "Two thumbs up": This is from an American TV show which features movie reviews from two different reviewers, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. The best part of the show, unsuprisingly, is when they vehemently disagreed and would argue their points on-screen. From a historical point of view, I've read research which disputes the original meaning of the thumb being up or down. It seems that a "thumbs down", far from being a sign for death, was meant to mimic the action of sheathing the sword and so sparing the defeated gladiator.

[3] After we saw "Chicken Run" on DVD, I added "The Great Escape" and "Stalag 17" to the list.

[4] "Americans": It has been pointed out to me that "America" actually encompasses two (or three, depending on your geographer) continents, and is not just a generic substitute for the "United States". While I am willing to apologize for using this sweeping generalization, I am left with two problems, one linguistic and one cultural: The first is that "United Statesian" sounds moronic (and conceivably has the same problem, as there are several "United States of...." The second is that non-USA-ans also use "United States" (meaning the USA) and "America" (also meaning the USA) interchangeably. So I would like to put it to a vote: those from the USA should vote for a more euphonious alternative to "USA-an", and those not from the USA should tell me how they normally refer to people of the USA.

[5] "On the fly": Or "on the go" as the British might say, meaning "performing a second action without interrupting the first action".



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