Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Ye Olde Viennese Christmas

 After what has begun to seem like a long stretch of months, my husband and I are becoming accustomed to feeling a bit different from everyone around us.  I don't mean that in an awkward way, but in the sense of being foreign.  And though we are starting to understand more and more of the intricacies present in Austrian life, we do not yet identify with all of them, or even most of them, for that matter.  We have enjoyed experiencing a new culture; it has certainly been an adventure, one that we are excited to continue.  But on occasion, such as during the holidays, we get  a tiny bit homesick, as do I imagine a good number of people.

 But, in a fortunate 'Christmas Miracle' sort of way, we are hosting my mother for this Christmas and New Year's in Vienna.  So the three of us are exploring an old fashioned European Chirstmas.  While sadly we have no snow on the ground, the beauty of the Christmasmarkts remains unparalleled.  Above you can see the tree and the lights at the Rathausplatz Christmasmarkt, our second stop on the Vienna Amazing Christmas Race.  Our first visit, on Saturday, was to the Schoenbrunn Christmasmarkt.  Nestled in front of the Versailles style palace in an large oval, wooden booths neighbored one another so closely as to form a sort of a wall.  In the center of the oval were several small, umbrella style pavilions, housing outdoor heaters, as well as food and drink booths.  We looked at the traditional Christmas wares sold at the first dozen or so booths before we were cold enough to require gluehwein, the Austrian mulled wine ubiqutious at outdoor winter events.  We bought it at the food stand, where it was being offered in commemorative mugs.  We then ventured closer to the heart of the markt, where a huge tree stood, alit with Christmas lights, in front of a small stage.  The front of the stage was a huge glass case, displaying an exquisitely detailed nativity scene, complete with a bejewelled elephant at the birth of Christ.
For lunch we each sampled something different, as Mom had a chocolate waffle, Jonathan some nockeln (noodles) with cheese, and I had what was advertised as the best wurst (sausage) in town.  The sausage was indeed excellent, and was housed in a cheesy pastry that really sealed the deal.  We ate huddled along the standing counter space next to the heater, trying to stay warm.  As we ate, a jazz ensemble played Christmas music from the adjacent, small stage by the nativity.  Jon was so thrilled with his cheesy noodles that I eventually commented, "I guess you can take the boy out of Wisconsin, but you can't take the cheese out of the Wisconsinite."
And before we knew it, the couple that had been standing by us for a while jumped in and asked Jon about Wisconsin.  As it turns out, the guy was from Wisconsin, and we spent the rest of the afternoon listening to more live Christmas music, sampling the different punschen (punches), and chatting with the Americans. 
The favorite was definitely the Baileyspunsch, no surprise there, and mom loved the a capella choir that performed after the jazz ensemble.  She also found some ornaments she liked, cutout paper scenes, but they seemed quite pricey so we vowed to look again Sunday at the next markt.  When the heater and the punsch could no longer keep us warm, we headed home and snuggled up in front of the movie The Holiday with potato corn chowder.  We each took turns dosing on the couch or in the man chair while we watched, and before long we called it a night.
The next morning we had a late breakfast and planned our second day of Christmasmarkt discoveries.  We started at Rathausplatz, which was amazingly beautiful.  Mom bought some funny Austrian Christmas people ornaments to take home as gifts, and we again were forced to have some gluehwein to stave off the chill.  For lunch we had soup in breadbowls, eating gulash and beer and bread soup beneath the gigantic Christmas tree.  After making our way through all the booths at Rathausplatz, we forged ahead to what was described by a few of my colleagues as more authentic of a Christmasmarkt, the Freyung.  This markt was small, and right out of an old Christmas story.  You half expected Scrooge to show up.  It was tiny by comparison to theRathausmarkt, with not more than 50 booths pressed close to one another to shoulder out the cold wind.  The ever present gluehwein and punsch were available, and of course Jon's favorite store was the cold meat counter, where endless salamis dangled above all kinds of other cuts of meat.  High above them all, perched on the top of the meat booth, was the markt's Christmas tree, shining with lights.  Mom bought a chocolate that looked like a whoopie pie, but later she said it was marzipan. 
The cold was closing in on us again, so we pressed on toward our goal: Christmas lights at the Graben.  To get there we of course had to pass through yet another, tiny local Christmasmarkt which was also very cute.  By then the lights had started, large cylinders of Christmas lights hanging far above us in the streets.  We followed them to the Graben, where stings of Christmas lights had been fashioned to simulate chandeliers in a ballrooms, each 'chandelier' rising over 12 feet tall, suspended overhead in twinkling splendour.  This was our crown jewel, so to speak, and it was worth not being able to feel our toes.  We stopped on our way back at the historic and iconic Cafe Landtmann's to warm up.  We were lucky to find seats right away, and from the window one could easily see the lights at the incredible Rathausplatz Christmasmarkt, which were breathtaking.  Mom and I had hot chocolates, and Jon had a classic Viennese hot drink called a Tiger Milk.  We were happy to sit and enjoy the magic of the millions of twinkly lights, but we were also happy for the chance to warm up.  As we made our way back through the Rathausplatz for a final photo at night, the crowds were thick and we smiled, knowing we had been lucky visit it earlier, when we had the chance to see it all and explore, but still to have the pictures of it at night was priceless.  We went home to a hot meal and Chevy Chase National Lampoon's Christmas Holiday. 
Monday was a day of shopping, and how we were able to dodge the crowds I will never know but will always be grateful for.  For dinner, we had a reservation at Le Loft, on the 18th floor of the Sofitel at Schwedenplatz.  Our table overlooked the Donau canal, but there was so much fog we felt like we were eating in a cloud.  It was very serene, and gave the city lights below us a soft, effusive effect, cloaking the city in mystery.  Our food was delicious, and we even had wine and dessert.  The chef sent our table soup samples before our main course, and after our dessert he also sent us a sample of tiny pastries.  We came home after our lavish dinner and curled up in front of the TV, where I fell asleep while Mom and Jon watched reruns of Castle.
I have posted many of our pictures on Facebook and Twitter already, and several of our friends and family have commented on our Christmas adventures so far.  We are happy to have the chance to share our Christmas with so many of our loved ones, and if any of you are able to join us for an upcoming holiday season, we would be excited to show you all of this in person.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Monday, December 9, 2013

I want a Hippopotamus for Christmas

Pringle is a young hippopotamus living in Lake Naivasha with his family. He lives with his mom, Hattie, and dad, Humphrey. 

Pringle also has an Aunt Helen and Uncle Hubert. Their son, Henry, is Pringle's age and they are best friends. Pringle's grandparents, Hilda and Hammond, live nearby as well, though they were displeased when Pringle was named, as they felt he should have a family name, such as Hammond the second.  

Pringle has other friends in the Lake as well, including Pete the great white pelican and his wife, Penelope. Pringle and Henry go to Lake Naivasha school, where they learn about ecosystems and the importance of environmental and wildlife conservation.  But what Pringle would really like to know is why is he different from all the other hippos, even his family?

But for all the esteem of the Lake Naivasha School, no one could answer Pringle's question.  In fact, they advised him to ask his parents, and so Pringle decided to do just that.

"Well son," Pringle's dad begins, "you know we often see humans on the lake.  They come here to watch us.  I know you learn about them at your school. We hope that they will continue to try to protect us from disappearing habitats and extinction.  But there is more to them than meets the eye."

Pringle is fascinated, and waits patiently and quietly to hear more of the story.

"You see, Pringle," Humphrey continues, "humans aren't like us.  They aren't sure they will be able to find food, so they carry it with them often."

Of course this idea is hard for Pringle to understand, because for him, the Lake provides everything he needs.

"Now I know that sounds odd, but it can be a good thing for us too." Pringle's dad explains, "sometimes they bring food with them onto the lake."

"But dad, the lake has food in it already! Why would anyone bring more food?" Pringle asks.

"Son, humans eat different food than we do, at least as far as I can make out." Humphrey answers, "but to get back to the story, Pringle, that is exactly how you got your name."

"I don't want to be named after human food, dad, that sounds awful!" Pringle exclaimed.  "And I don't want to be the only hippopotamus with a P name.  I am supposed to have an H name.  Grandpa and Grandma told me."

"Now, son, you interrupted the story.  Where were we? Ah yes, Pringles.  When your mom was pregnant with you, we saw a boat full of humans.  One of the humans was pregnant too, and she was holding a can that said Pringles.  Every time the water rippled, she would eat a handful of something out of the can.  But once your mother got closer to the boat to investigate, she startled the pregnant human who dropped the can.  Out floated these thin, curled crisps, which your mother absolutely had to try! She loved them and ate all she could. And later, when we picking out a name for you, she told me:  'I hope our baby is brave, Humphrey.  Brave enough to transcend borders; brave enough to show humans why we deserve a place here and why they should protect our home and our species. '"

Humphrey then tells Pringle, "and so I told your mom right then that I knew our baby would be just like that, because your mom was so brave to want to see the humans and learn more about them.  I said we should name you Pringle.  And your mom wanted to send you to the Lake Naivasha School, even though it is expensive and we have had to make sacrifices to be able to afford it.  But she wanted you to have the best education available for a hippo, so that you could do something great with your life."

"Wow." Pringle wishes he could think of a better response, but he is a little overwhelmed. "Can I ask Mom about this too?" He asks his dad.

"Of course, son," Humphrey answers.

Pringle thinks about it for a little while before asking Hattie. "Mom, I asked dad why I was named Pringle, and he told me about when you met the humans and sending me to school."

"Is that so honey?" Hattie answered. "And so what do you think about it?"

"Well, since I will be educated in conservation I would want to make a difference, make the world a better place for hippos. Is my name special enough to achieve that, do you think?"

"Pringle, your name is unique, but it is you that is special, dear." His mom tells him.

"Really? So you think I could do that?" He asks her.

"Pringle you can do anything you want darling, and if will always be proud of you." She answers.

"That's what I want to do, mom, but can I tell you something?" Pringle asks a little sheepishly.

"Of course, babe, what is it?" She tries to reassure him. 

"It's a little scary to think of doing it all by myself, Mom. Is that bad?" Pringle asks her.

"Maybe you won't have to sweetie, maybe you won't have to," Hattie mysteriously murmurs.

"You know what I wish for,  mom? A little sister, she could help me. We could become hippo ambassadors.  And she should have a P name, like me.  Maybe Priscilla? We could be unique together, and we would work with the humans to conserve our world."

"You know what, Pringle? You may just want to tell Santa about that wish, and see if he brings it for you" Hattie smiled, and hoped her current pregnancy wouldn't be too noticeable until Christmas...

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Black Friday in Narok

Narok is the last city before you enter the Maasai Mara Wildlife Reserve in Kenya. But please don't think it is close to the park in actuality. It is a solid 2.5 hours on a washboard dirt road to get to the Mara from Narok.  We drove through Narok on our way to the park, of course, but we didn't stop. It was a crowded place, with ramshackle two story buildings lining the roadway. The buildings looked like they were from a movie set, and not real; they were made of cinderblock stacked with cement mix not more than 12 cubic feet, painted with bright colors.  Like a fake version of the old West. Trash was scattered everywhere, and goats, sheep and cattle were herded along the roadside.  
Personally I was glad we didn't stop, I hoped our destination would render Narok a faint driveby memory. It wasn't so much the poverty that I wished to avoid, but the disregard for the surrounding environs, the livestock that was lame or limping.  In other words, the things I hold dear were a luxury here, and not something people could afford to be concerned with. Naturally this threw into light the crux of the poaching war, for how can you stop poaching in a place like this?
And so what can you do in such a situation, but do your best to get through it until such a time as an idea or option presents itself.  But that is not exactly the story I want to focus on, so please allow me to continue.
We drove on our bumpy, bumpy way to the beautiful expanse that is the Maasai Mara, where we were enchanted for the following two full days.  It became easy to see the attraction, even addiction of safari, and when we drove out of the park that third day it was a quiet ride, leaving only the sounds of the truck in response to the rigors of the dirt route beneath us.
We cheered when we hit pavement again, and within the hour we arrived at a busy gas station in none other than Narok, gateway to the Mara.  The gas station was so busy that they had an attendant just to direct traffic to the overcrowded pumps, and as our able guide got out to take care of the fill up, our little truck succumbed to the masses of 'sales executives.'
This was a term we had gleaned from our aforementioned guide and driver, the one and only Fred.  While the truck's tank was tended to, all of us inside were tempted with Maasai blankets, beaded bracelets of every kind, completely inauthentic looking safari hats meant solely for the touristy-ist of the tourists.  
But by this stage in our travels, we were very wise.  Largely thanks to one of our tour members, the well prepared Kathy, we now knew that we could do so much more than haggle with these sales executives, we could barter.  Kathy, a vivacious gal from Houston, had learned from her hairdresser back home that bartering was the ticket when it came to local salespeople here in Kenya. And so she had packed her bags with American watches, t shirts and baseball caps for just such an opportunity.  Over the course of the week, we had all seen her in action and could attest to her successes.  However, as this was our last day and Kathy still had a select few remaining American goods for trade, her friend Karen jumped right in and began to bargain.  
Things came into the truck; things went out of the truck.  Goods changed hands, and one deal was even reversed when an American watch and T shirt were ultimately rejected as trade for a Maasai celebration blanket.  There were bracelets, safari hats traded for one another, and every one of the pens we had on us.
At the end, Kathy traded one man the windbreaker she was wearing for his touristy safari hat, and another man asked my husband if he would trade my sunglasses, and then he asked again for my sandals.
We ended up with a bamboo zebra print for our wall, and I kept my shoes and glasses. No money was exchanged at any point during the madness, by anyone if you can believe that.
As we finally made it out of that crazy gas station, Karen made the connection - it was Black Friday!  Somehow it was perfect, and we all laughed, remembering that it wasn't so different from Black Friday in the States, after all.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Hippo Bar

As I write this, Jon and I are sitting at the Keekorok Lodge's Hippo Bar in the Maasai Mara Wildlife Reserve. The bar, of course, is aptly named for the resident hippopotami population happily lounging in the muddy pond to our left. They are casually accompanied by a small crocodile, currently submerged having formerly sunned on the tiny beach. The landscape itself is, however, overshadowed at the moment by a lone adult elephant. He seems nonchalant as he meanders along the shore line munching on green grass and intermittently refreshing himself from the warming sun with sips of cool water. Much the same are our friends, the wallowing hippos, often splashing and occasionally snorting. In contrast are the herds of zebra distantly surrounding us, a few of which yammer out their distinct call frequently.  It seems they are keeping the kids in line, so to speak. 

The hippos have random bouts of group grunting and sometimes stand up in the small pond, looking like rising land masses. The elephant has sauntered toward the brush now, moving nearer the zebra in his eternal quest for groceries and the storks that were previously avoiding him are spreading their wings to stand and sun along the bank. 

A group of Indian people stopped by, briefly to see the big game and to order a drink to go, but just now our only company is a smartly dressed bartender and a small black and white monkey relaxing in a tree by the door. Intriguingly, the little monkey has remarkably bright blue testicles, such that they surely cannot be naturally occurring. The best description I can currently offer is robin's egg blue, though I know it sounds unbelievable. 

These little guys roam the property, testing guests' door handles for unlocked rooms they can pillage and hissing and slapping the ground if you get to close to them. Nonetheless, we have decided to accept our mission: to ascertain whether the blue balls are natural or artificial. The execution of our plan is simple; survey the testicles of as many hotel monkeys as possible, even including digital documentation. After all, this experiment is conducted in the name of science!

And so we set out from our perch at the multi-species refreshing water hole to photo log our first subject. As he was casually relaxing in a tree near the Hippo Bar's exit, it was easy to approach him and snap an iPhone picture. Upon relatively close inspection, it did indeed appear that the testicles in question were not only bright blue, but also that this could actually have been Mother Nature's intention.

Obviously science demands additional proof, and thus our search continued.  As we sought larger sample size, it was fortunate that another mischievous primate had arrived on the deck, running lithe but lazily along the handrail. We scouted out the necessary details and discovered a second pair of blue balls. 

As we  wandered from the deck toward the lodge, we saw several more monkeys, two of whom we're playing in a hammock hung out on the lawn in the shade. Sure enough, blue balls were a theme amongst the Y chromosome influenced monkeys, and we therefore drew our scientific conclusions before readying ourselves for one last game drive through the evening Maasai Mara.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Good Old Fashioned Craic

Ellen and Jade stepped off the elevator and into the lobby.  It looked like they were the first tour members to arrive at the meeting point, though tour guide Jennifer was nearby, standing between the concierge and the complimentary phones at the side of the large room.  Jennifer was staring at a man on the phone, without so much as a dash of subtlety to her, and within an instant, Ellen and Jade could appreciate why.  The man was practically shouting into the phone, using every obscenity Jade had ever heard, as well as some she had not heard previously.  As he slammed the receiver back into its cradle and turned to stomp off, he found himself in front of a stern faced Jennifer, bright red hair flaming.

“Do you talk to your mother with that mouth?” She asked him blatantly.  The man sort of chuckled, and Jennifer turned sweet as pie and said, “I’ve always hoped to meet an Irish man, but if that’s how you talk to your mother, then I cannot go out with you.”  Jade swore Jennifer’s eyelashes fluttered a bit while she was saying this, and the man melted like butter.  He smiled and stuttered excuses and explanations, and even tried to flirt a bit.  Jade could see his demeanor change once again when he realized he’d already been curtly dismissed, and he retreated hastily toward the street exit, but Jade’s astute eye had already caught on.  She had a new found respect for Jennifer, and she resolved to tuck that trick away into her repertoire, just in case she ever needed it.

The rest of the tour group showed up and they were herded, like so many of the sheep they’d seen from the road during the day’s long drive, into transit to the pub.  They arrived before the yellow fa├žade of a place called ‘The Lisheen, ‘ which meant nothing to them by name but everyone hurried inside anyway as they were hungry and ready for a pint all around.

As the tour group filed upstairs where there dinner would be served, they noticed the downstairs pub was similar to last night’s fare.  Dinner options were lamb stew, fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, and roast chicken with potatoes, of course.  This time Ellen had the shepherd’s pie and Jade chose the chicken.  Both meals were hearty and warming, and Jade hoped her mother was on the mend from her chill earlier in the day.  The girls chatted at dinner with tour mates Brian and Linda, as well as the other group members, who were all beginning to bond into a cohesive unit of American travelers abroad.  Their time was easy, and they enjoyed one another’s company, before once again being herded like livestock, this time down to the first floor pub.  As they descended, they could hear the typical evening pub din of voices, but here it was fleshed out by instruments here and there, as if warming up to play.  As Jade rather timidly approached the bar, a random Irish man perched on a bar stool asked her, “American are ye then, lass?”

He had asked it as if it were the most natural course of action and conversation ever conceived, and even appeared a bit taken aback when she unknowingly displayed her surprise.  “Um, yes, actually,” Jade managed to reply while not exactly making eye contact with the Irishman.  Not that she could have had she earnestly attempted it, he was staring steadfastly into his pint.

“Right, well then barkeep, we’ll both have a pint on that.  Or do ye want Budweiser?” He afforded her a sidelong glance with that last question, as it was baited.  

“No, thank you, I’d prefer Guinness,” Jade asserted.

“Good answer, lass,” the barfly retorted, “because then I’m buying for ye.  No need for that horsepiss of American beer when ye can have good auld Guinness as God himself intended.”  Jade was pretty sure the older gentleman sincerely meant everything he’d just intimated, as his expression was as heartfelt as his speaking voice.

“Thank you, sir,” she said simply as she reached for her foamy pint.  Brian and Linda were just picking their heady brews up as well, and they all turned as one when the violin whined loudly.

A cheer went up, it seemed as this was a cue of sorts.  By now, cigarette smoke could be seen clinging to the already low ceiling, but the threesome wandered over toward Ellen, who had somehow procured a small corner booth, into which they all squeezed.  By now the music had begun in earnest, and Jade found herself straining to hear Brian as he all but shouted, “this must be what Jennifer meant by craic!”  The entire pub was chockablock full of mismatched souls.  One imagined it must be a variegated mix of locals, Irish natives, tourists American and European alike.

But the violin swelled and fiddled, someone chimed in on an archaic looking set of alien bagpipes, and a chubby, red faced man huffed and puffed perched on a chair while squeezing his accordion with all his might.  If you looked closely you could spot someone playing the spoons on his knee, and yet another violin off in the corner.  The music was rowdy and lively, but so was the crowd – in no time the pub goers were singing along loudly and everyone seemed to know all the words regardless of what the musicians played.  It was a prime example of good old fashioned craic, as cannot be explained until it has been experienced firsthand.  Minutes quickly absolved into hours, and before Jade could realize it, the night had been lost.  Ellen was exhausted, while Jade was exhilarated.  The tour group parted ways; some rode back to the Imperial on the transit, while many walked the distance in the cool night air under the guidance and company of Jennifer and her co-guide, Andrea.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Expat Experience

As previously announced here at 2 Fat Girls on a Volcano, this little blog has become a  featured blog on InterNations.org.  And in recognition of that, this little page bears a badge of InterNation honor.  But finally, we were able to physically attend one of the InterNations events.  We went to Stadtpark and walked a short block through the dusky park to the InterContinental Hotel.  The lights on the marble entryway to the park were soft and pretty, and it started to sprinkle as we were ushered into the hotel lobby. 

 The bar at the hotel had the most  beautiful chandelier, and we were early enough to get seats at the bar.  When we gave our names at the podium, we got InterNations poker chips as free drink tokens.  The drink choices were beer or gin and tonic.  Jon got the beer and I went with the gin and tonic.  Pretty soon we struck up a conversation with a man and woman standing behind us.  They had met before at one of these events and were chatting about work stress and how busy they were.  Her name was Irina, which is a gorgeous name, and she was from Ukraine.  She had very blonde hair, like mine, but with a sassy hair cut, and perfectly applied red lipstick.  He was Andreas, and was actually from Vienna, though he had only recently moved back. 
Andreas had probably the coolest job of the half dozen people we met that night; he made fashion accessories out of airplane paraphernalia. As examples, he showed us a wallet made from the  yellow life jackets stashed under the airplane seats, and his belt, of course made from an airline seat belt.  Next we met, Lili, my favorite acquaintance of  the night.  She was tall with long dark hair and was  very glamorous.  Lili was from Hungary, but she spoke good English and we struck up quite a conversation, for about an hour.  We also met her friends, Dina and Zophie, both of whom were from Budapest.  Jon had fun getting everyone we met their respected name tags from the table at the back of the room.  We headed home just as the event was strongly gaining steam, as I had journal  club early the next morning and we had our boy Jackson to get home to.  There had been 600 people signed up to come to this event, so we knew it would be busy.  But we thought maybe for our next event, we would try a smaller group so that we might meet some couples that we could talk with a little more.  So I started looking into some of the groups and their activities and I found more options than we could even consider.  Some of the front runners for us were tennis, couples ballroom dancing, Sunday brunching, and professional networking.  There is even a running group that Jon can join!  And then there are others, too, like scuba diving and traveling and movie watching.  So even if we didn't already have enough here in Europe to see and do, we could do all kinds of exploring through our very active Vienna InterNations.  But, as yet we don't have many friends on the website, so if you'd like to check it out, please visit InterNations.org and look for Jon and I!  Happy adventuring:)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Swiss House

SchweizerHaus is an open air restaurant in the Viennese Prater that runs from March through October.  The Prater is a fascinating place in the heart of the city of Vienna.  It is a park divided into two separate parks: one is the Austrian equivalent of Central Park, though apparently it is much larger; and the other half is an amusement park, much like Coney Island or Navy Pier.  But more on that later...
We took the U Bahn from Floridsdorf and then walked to the SchweizerHaus, which means Swiss House in German.  This place is legendary here for its traditional Austrian food.  Of particular note is the pork shank, which appears to be roasted and is HUGE.  Literally, we watched a family of four across from us share one pork shank.  We heard that some of them weigh up to a kilo, or 2.2 pounds to us.  And that isn't all - it comes with a bread basket, coleslaw salad, and fresh ground horseradish and mustard. 
Did I mention, the Swiss House is a biergarten?  Reportedly home of the original Budweiser, in fact.  So we felt obligated to try, for the sake of an old fashioned Austrian custom. 

Our drinks came out first, mostly because I ordered the Backhendl, which is fried chicken and takes 20 minutes.  But we waited patiently, watching the family foursome at the next table decimate their roasted pork.  Above us through the tress we could see one of the rides, a giant communal swing lifting numbers of people into the air and  swirling them all in a lazy spiral. 

When our food arrived, we quickly learned that it was well worth the time.  Jon ordered the Budweiserfleisch, basically pork steak slow braised in beer with the most delicious dumplings and gravy.  As previously discussed, I got the fried chicken.  Now, the chicken was fantastic, don't get me wrong.  But, it was no replacement for Southern Fried Chicken, delicious though it was:)
After dinner we walked through the amusement park.  Jon won a tiny but loud green kazoo whistle at an archery booth, which he proceeded to blow almost incessantly.  All in all it was a perfect way to spend one of the last pretty days of our first Fall in another land.  And we will take all of our friends and family who visit us to the Swiss House!

All American Eggs Benedict

Chili Eggs Benedict

Cornbread muffin
2 eggs over easy
Homemade American style chili
Cheddar cheese

Heat chili and corn muffin appropriately.  Fry two eggs over easy.  Assemble and sprinkle with cheddar cheese and enjoy!

A Day in the Life

I will admit that, at first, I did not understand all the rage behind Sacher torte in Austria.  I mean, it seems like a really big deal here.  And not just in Vienna.  When Mom and I were in Salzburg (where happily neither of us lost our skirts) it was a big deal there, too.  We went to this famous coffee shop because it was blustery and cold, and we had already eaten Kase krainers with mustard and semmel rolls.  And everyone in this coffee shop, which was chocker block full, was ordering Sacher torte with their coffee.  We just got a cafe Melange and a Heisse Schokolade for Mom, and they came out on these dainty little silver trays with a shot glass of water and a little wafer cookie.  Very classy!
But, back to the Sacher torte.  The cake itself is rather dry, and I feel compelled to confess that most Americans are more interested in moist cake, namely Duncan Hines.  Perhaps, though, that is the real beauty behind the Sacher torte.  The dryness lends a whisper of airiness, which turns out to be the perfect complement to the chocolate ganache encasing the cake.  Then there is the filling.  I don"t even know if it is orange or what exactly, but it just perfumes the torte without being sickeningly sweet or gooey. 
You may ask why any of this is important, and that is a fair question.  What I think is, this moment, when someone understands the harmonious balance of the Sacher torte, is when you offically become an expatriate.  Sure, sure, we went to the official expatriate event for October, but I am telling you, the first time you show up for a morning meeting at work where everyone has a cup of  Viennese coffee in one hand and a piece of Sacher torte in the other....that is the real moment.  And possibly more important, it makes a breakfast to rival even the viennoiserie pastries;)
Possibly even cuter was when my Austrian coworker told me my picture of this Sacher torte (served at work) was not fit for a blog post picture because it wasn't served properly on a silver dish...

Friday, October 25, 2013


Jon and I have finally managed to register for an InterNations Vienna Event!  We have been trying for almost three months, but these events always fill to capacity almost immediately.  Must be rather presitgious, I suppose. 
In any case, we will be attending the One Million Members event here in Vienna and I am already signed up to blog about it:)
You see, in an effort to increase my humble blogspot readership, I have become a guest blogger on the InterNations website.  In addition, InterNations has approved 2FatGirlsonaVolcano as one of their featured blogs!  You can check it out below, if you scroll down to their  badge of approval:)
I am very excited to be featured on InterNations, and I hope my fellow expats enjoy 2FatGirlsonaVolcano as well as Jon and my zany adventures abroad...

Thursday, October 24, 2013


Ok folks, my apologies for the recent, brief absence.  It turns out moving to another country to work in a foreign language can be really hard and take up a LOT of time.  But there is a potential silver lining to this particular cloud...
I have an opportunity to submit 2FatGirlsonaVolcano for publication as a travel memoir.  Now, I am not getting my hopes up.  But I do want to submit my best foot forward, so to speak.  So, please, please consider a few key problems my submission must address:

- what is unique about 2FatGirlsonaVolcano?  Why is is sale-able?
- am I qualified to offer it from an author perspective? How so?
- other than my mildly successful efforts at global social media dominance, what are some valid and lucrative means by which I could market 2FatGirls?

If you have any ideas for me on these questions, please contact me via Twitter: @jmrosser58, LinkedIn: Julie Rosser, Facebook: Julie Rosser, Google+: JM Welch, Pinterest: Julie Rosser, Instagram: jmrosser

Every little bit helps, and as I near 2000 page views, we can only hope and pray that my vision for 2FatGirls can be realized...

Thank you for  reading and responding!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Queen of the Danube

Last weekend we took the high speed train to meet a friend of mine, who was in Budapest for a Conference.  It was Jon's first time on the high speed train, and it was a 3 hour trip one way.  We saw some of the beautiful countryside of Austria and Jon studied a bit for his impending A1 German test, while I read for work.
We arrived at lunch time, in a station that from the inside, looked everything like you would imagine a train station behind the Iron Curtain.   However, once you ventured outside and looked back at the station from the city, it was quite grand looking.  We met my friend on the street as we walked toward the Danube, and we used the TripAdvisor CityGuide app on my iPhone to find a nearby lunch spot.  The first place we went wash a Jewish Hungarian restaurant, which was so popular, we would have needed reservations to eat lunch there on a Saturday.  Our second spot, though, proved to be a cute, cozy bar/cafe which was quiet and served good food.  The buys ordered beers and I had an Aperol spritzer. Jon ordered a delicious Thai chicken soup, and I had Hungarian cheese spread with local olive bread and veggies.  Our friend ordered duck risotto, and we discussed our next move.  
Contrary to my own custom, I recommended a city tour, and the boys agreed that in our limited time window, it seemed like the best plan.  We walked down to the New York Mansion, now an extravagant 5 star hotel, and bought our tickets for 5000 forints a piece (about 15 euro).  The pick up was just outside, and an open air double decker showed up straightaway. We filed into the back seats on the top of the tour bus, and shortly were rumbling toward the city center. Classical music played while driving, until the narration interrupted intermittently. 
We heard about the history of Hungary, as well as each landmark we past.  We took in the Chain Bridge, Budapest Castle, Fisherman's Bastion, the Sinagogue, Heroes' Square, and Citadella.  
Many of the buildings looked a lot like the buildings in Vienna, but sadly several of them displayed chipped plaster, and soiled marble.  
We decided Vienna might be just a little spoiled, in so far as their capability to keep so much of their history and traditions and so many of their buildings so pristine.  On Budapest's behalf, though, we learned from our bus narrative that as much as 80% of the city was destroyed by bombing in WWII. To see so many buildings majoritively restored was impressive, and took some of the melancholy out of the disrepair.
It was a chilly day to tour on the open bus, so when it dropped us off again we headed inside The New York Cafe, also known as the most beautiful cafe in the world.  Just to warm up, we ordered a round of drinks before once again heading our separate ways.  I had, of course, mulled red wine, and Jon ordered Jameson and Ginger on the rocks. Adam got some fruffy white chocolate liquor coffee, and we all took pictures inside, in true tourist fashion.
But nothing could diminish the grandeur of the Sinagogue and the Parliament, draped dramatically along the east side of the glittering Danube, or the stalwart Chain Bridge, having survived war as well as Communism.  A day or two in Budapest is well worth the comfortable train ride, and we hope to make the trip again sometime.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fall settles in...

Today we took the dog for a leisurely Sunday walk, the kind where you linger and sight see, smell the roses, and so on.  And do you know what we saw?  We walked to our favorite local parish church, pictures of which can be found on Instagram (jmrosser), Twitter (@jmrosser58), or Pinterest (Julie Rosser).  The air was brisk and the sky was a bit overcast.  There was a definite breeze as we took a lefty and made our way toward the river, where a territorial swan swam up to the steps and promptly began hissing at our yellow lab. 
As we stood on the footbridge in the chilly wind, we saw trees changing colors, and closed off beaches.  Although the Eisdiele was still open and quite tempting, we had to admit that Fall has arrived in Vienna.
However, as it is our first fall here, we are looking forward to all it has to offer: changing leaves, Oktoberfest, Sturm, and hopefully more surpirses too!
And we can't wait for winter to bring us some pretty white snow, when we can break out the snowshoes and our skies currently crowding our abstellraum.
Don't forget that our cute little flat has heaters in perfect working order in every room, including the guest room.  When you come visit we can introduce you to yummu gluhwein...

Friday, September 20, 2013

Brussels: a leap of faith

Jade collected her bags and was surprised when no one even questioned her at customs.  She even found the bus to the city center with relative ease.  In fact she was rather proud of herself, and enjoyed her bus ride while thinking to herself, ‘I’m in Belgium!’
Up until the point, that is, that the bus driver had to inform her, in English no less, that this was the last stop.  He had already said so in French, twice, and everyone else had gotten off the bus, but Jade was happily clueless.  Until she was mortified.  And, to make matters worse, she was travelling with an ungodly amount of luggage, so it took her a few moments to collect all of her things and arrange them in a fashion conducive to being moved off a bus by a single person. And thus, before she knew it, Jade was almost literally in a heap in the middle of Brussels, and she had no idea where she was, especially in relation to where she needed to be.  Nor did she exactly have a point of contact…
Surely this wasn’t what her parents had been so worried about, was it?  ‘I mean, worst comes to worst,’ she thought to herself, ‘ I can always stay in a hotel.’  Secretly this was tantamount to defeat to Jade, but she needed a little reassurance at this point, and she damned sure wasn’t going to call her mother for it.  Largely because she was afraid her mother would say ‘we told you so,’ and insist that Jade come home.
But Jade was out to prove herself, mostly to herself.  So after 15 or 20 minutes of fumbling through her guidebook and looking intently at the French/Flemish bus stop sign, Jade resigned herself and asked for help.  There was only one other person left nearby at that point, a middle aged gentlemen who replied to Jade’s question as she asked it, in French.  Of course, Jade couldn’t exactly understand his reply, as the only French she knew was what she had read out of a book on the plane ride just before. 
So, she calmly asked him back, “Je ne comprend pas; parlez vous Anglaise?”
He then told her, “Yes, the metro is just over there.  Where are you trying to go?” as he pointed across the circle.  Jade saw some escalators in the general area he had motioned toward.
“The American Embassy.  Do you know where that is?”  Now truthfully, let’s consider how many people randomly know where any embassy is in their own city, particularly an embassy that does not belong to their own country. 
But Jade was lucky this time, and the man told her, take the metro two stops and get off at Arts Loi.  You will find it a little ways down when you come out.” And with that, he left.
So, Jade set off toward the escalators, with a garment bag, a large purse, a backpack stuffed to capacity, and a large rolling suitcase.  She probably looked like a crazy person, but she was determined to fit in, and so she held her head high as she neared the subway.  The escalators seemed not to be working, which struck Jade as odd on a Monday morning, but because she didn’t want to be mistaken for an ignorant tourist, she was undaunted and took the adjacent stairs, her wheeled suitcase loudly slamming down every single step.  She did not realize that the escalators had motion sensors until, having arrived at Arts Loi and dragged all of her bags up the stairs, a woman walked right next to her, onto the lifeless escalator, and as she stepped on to it, the escalator jumped to life and carried her down into the metro.
One part of her wanted to laugh at her mistake, the other part was mortified that she had been revealed as a foreigner, and so Jade decided not to think about it.  After all, she was ultimately succeeding in her quest; she was, according to the man’s directions, almost to the Embassy.  Jade’s new place of work, starting tomorrow.
One thing that bothered her still, though, was how quiet the sidewalks and the streets were.  After all, it was Monday morning in the capital of the European Union – where was everyone?  But just as this question began to nag at Jade, she saw an American Flag out of the far left corner of her eye, and she thought to herself, ‘hah! I did it!’
Before she could gloat though, she had to once again dig through her rather large purse to find her passport.  And though she held it in her hand as she approached the embassy gate, the short marine outside stopped her anyway.
“Ma’am, I’m sorry but we’re closed.”  He informed Jade.  Which is right about when she thought she felt her heart stop.
“What?! How can you be closed? I’m an American.  This is the American Embassy.  I have a job here and I don’t know anyone.  I don’t have a place to live, or even a place to stay.  I’m supposed to contact my boss when I get here, and he works here.  I don’t even have his phone number, just an email address.”  She held out her passport while she ranted all of this information off, really it sounded more like a plea for help at this point.  The short Marine let her in the gate, and soon she was telling the whole sob story to another Marine, even shorter than the first, inside the gatehouse.  Clearly this Marine could see that tears were on their way, and he reassured her, probably before he even knew what she was talking about.  He took her boss’s name, and while Jade waited and stubbornly refused to cry, the world’s shortest Marine kindly called Jade’s soon to be boss.  Who, it turns out, was the director of his entire division, not only for all of Europe, the US mission to the EU, and also Africa.  It also turned out that he just so happened to be in Venice, Italy that day.
As Jade soon learned, not only was it Memorial Day in the States, but it was a Bank Holiday in Belgium and indeed, the US Embassy was closed.  The cute little Marine, though, must have interjected on her behalf, because when he turned his gatehouse microphone back on to speak with Jade, after hanging up the phone with her new boss, he said “not to worry.  The Director of your department in is Italy, but he is calling his housesitter to come and get you.”
After showering copious, genuine thanks upon both of the short Marines, Jade was ushered back out of the Embassy gatehouse, where she sat on her giant wheeled suitcase for only a few minutes awaiting the arrival of the rescuing housesitter. 
Jan showed up quickly, and hopped out to meet Jade.  He was rather pudgy but very nice, and he worked up a bit a sweat while stuffing Jade’s luggage into his tiny car.  Clearly he had not planned on picking up someone with lots of luggage today, and it was really good of him to drop everything and race into town on a holiday to pick up some poor tourist.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Christiane Amanpour and Easy Company

In truth, it was six years before Jade and Ellen would again leave their home country in search of culture and adventure.  Domestic travels and carreer paths took precedence in those years, until Jade could no longer accept what she considered to be cultural stagnance.  By then she was in her second year of a demanding graduate school program, and working part time in her field as well.  Jade happened to attend a related international club meeting, where the faculty mentor described an internship position.  Instantly Jade knew that was her ticket, and she emailed the professor as soon as she got home from the evening meeting.  Over the next nine months, everything fell into place, and Jade found herself packing for a four month summer internship at the US Embassy in Brussels, Belgium.
Naturally, Jade’s parents were very concerned with details; things like where Jade would live and how would she get around.  They also were extremely worried that she didn’t know anyone there and hadn’t studied French or Flemish.  But Jade could not be bothered with these pesky little particulars – she spoke Spanish and had a couple books on French.  She could learn it on the plane ride, she was sure.  And she knew where to go, even had arranged to housesit for an American family living off base in the city for 5 weeks of her stay.  Everything would work out fine, and honestly, Jade could not for the life of her figure out what all the stress her parents seemed to feel was about.  After all, it was Europe, not some third world country.  And she would be working at the American Embassy.  It wasn’t like she was Christiane Amanpour reporting live from the front lines of a remote warzone.
And so, with a moment or two’s hesitation as she boarded the plane, Jade was off.  On her domestic connection, she plugged in her French CD and pulled out the guide.  By the time she reached the international wing in Dulles after checking on her luggage, Jade still had four hours before her next departure.  So she settled herself into a moderately comfy chair at the gate and cozied up to the used French English Dictionary she had purchased.  She was happily reading away, when an old man sitting next to her broke into her reverie.
“I can teach you all the French you need to know,” he said.  Now, generally speaking, Jade had a bit of a soft spot for old men that reminded her of her grandfather.  But even more innate to Jade was her preference not to be bothered.  Especially when very obviously reading.  She tried to blatantly ignore the man, but he was a persistent old coot, and just kept on talking to her.  As she reluctantly emerged from her self imposed isolation, Jade noticed that the man was wearing one of those old army caps, the ones that list whatever division he had been in.  She also began to realize, as the elderly man spoke very Americanized French to her, that he was travelling with his son and two grandsons.  Now, astute though Jade was, she rarely had time to spare on others, particularly people she either didn’t know or didn’t care about, so at the time she paid very little attention to these details.  But her interest was instantly piqued when the older gentleman casually stated, “I haven’t spoken French since I was in France sixty years ago.”
“Sixty years ago was 1944, right before D-Day.” Jade quickly replied, rather dryly.  She rather fancied the old guy full of it, but he didn’t seem to take offense.
“That’s right.  I arrived in France on June 6th, 1944.”  He stated, somewhat quietly.
“Do you mean to tell me you took one of the beaches?”  Jade was now bordering incredulous.
“Omaha,” he said, and that was all the proof she needed.  “You seem to know a bit about it,” he added, almost as a question.
Jade was quieter, respectful, when she answered.  “Not as much as I would like, only some of the dates and I really like Band of Brothers, you know that miniseries that chronicles the missions of Easy Company.”
“You know Easy Company? “ he sounded somewhat impressed.  “I fought with Easy Company under Patton’s command at Bastogne.” 
“You took Omaha on D-Day and you fought in the Battle of the Bulge?”  Jade could no longer mask the awe in her voice.
“That’s right.” The old man said.  “Not many people your age know much about World War II.”
“Well,” Jade had some difficulty describing her feeling about it, “it seems to me that that was the era when America stepped up, to do what had to be done, because it was the right thing to do, the only thing to do.  We had our own problems then, but so many men went to war, because they had to, and I happen to think they saved the world.  I truly have the utmost respect for their sacrifice, and I think of it as the Golden Age of our country.  My grandfather got really sick in basic, and was in a hospital bed for most of the war, but he has that same backbone.  That sense of doing what’s necessary.  He’s a really good man, and I know that World War II is part of that.  It’s part of that entire generation.  Even my grandmother, his wife, had to give up going to college to work in one of the factories.  She told me about it once, she said that was what we had to do.”
They chatted a bit more, and then the old man’s family required his attention again, and Jade went back to her French book.  Only several days later would she understand why the men were travelling together.  On the sixtieth anniversary of D-Day, France awarded 99 American veterans the French Medal of Honor – their highest honor.  All of the veterans were survivors of D-Day.  The old man had been one of them, and there to see him walk across that stage and accept his Medal of Honor were his son and his grandsons.  Jade understood, on some level, what this man’s sacrifice meant to her country and to France, and she hoped that his grandsons were as proud of him and as in awe of his service as she would ever remain.