Saturday, March 21, 2009

My Apartment

I previously mentioned how sketchy my  shower is ... so here're some pictures, although I don't know if they do it justice. Its like showering in a big rectangular bowl. Every time I move it reminds me of slab climbing because thats the kind of climbing where the rock isn't vertical so it is, in theory easier. However, what the rock lacks in vertical-ness it makes up for in a corresponding lack of handholds. So you have to move carefully and place your feet delicately. I feel like that almost everytime I shower. The other pictures, as you could probably guess, are of the bedroom and kitchen. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Hooray for the International Atomic Energy Association!!!

We were in Vienna. We got off the subway at the 'Stephansplatz' station, with the intention of seeing St. Stephans cathedral. The station was indeed well placed because the escalator we rode to the surface put us out about 30 feet from the front door. The cathedral, in all its gothic majesty, loomed up in front of us. Much of the stone was black (presumably from age and mold)  giving the cathedral an even more powerful presence. Apparently the building has been under construction almost continuously since the 1100's and, true to form, one tower was still under construction. The inside was just as formidable with thick pillars rising to the dark recess in the arched ceiling. 

Jeannie and I were in Vienna not to see St. Stephans cathedral, but to attend an Austrian Ball. The two of us, and Jeannie's entire class had arrived in Vienna that morning after an all-night bus ride from Bologna. The entire trip had been organized by Jeannie's Austrian classmates. They had bought the tickets to the ball, booked hotel rooms for the 200+ students and partners in our group, and rented 3 big busses to get us there. Jeannie and I had chosen to book our own hotel room for two reasons. The first was, to save money, and the second was, because we like to do our own thing. 

I'm pretty sure that Jeannie and I are basically the perfect travel partners, which is lucky cause we're going to get married. We share an ~hour long tolerance for museums and a sweet tooth. Additionally, we both like walking and hate spending money. These trends have made themselves felt in recent trips to Florence and Rome. We usually see maximum 4 sites per day and spend the rest of the time walking around looking for gelato, falafel (so far, all the European cities I've been to have Bangladeshis by the dozens making cheap kebabs and falafel; except the ones in Bologna don't seem to make good falafel), cheap beer and sites that don't cost money to see (like parks, cathedrals, or old buildings instead of museums). We also spend a lot of time walking from restaurant to restaurant trying to find a good deal.

The only difference to our travel in Vienna was that instead of looking for gelato we looked for 'sachertorte'. Torte just means cake and sachertorte is a traditional Viennese chocolate cake with fruit thrown in in a delicious way. Also, because it was cold and we were running on very little sleep (the bus seats were smaller and more uncomfortable than airplane seats) we spent more time in coffee shops relaxing.

After we saw St. Stephans cathedral we moved on to the Hofburg (the Imperial Palace and the former center of the Holy Roman Empire). For our one museum of the day we toured the Imperial Suites and got to see the very rooms from which emperors had coordinated their empires. We managed to make it for about an hour and a half in this museum (we had gotten the audio guide for free so we had to get out money's worth out of that). After a gelato stop in the afternoon we went back to the hotel to take a nap before the big evening of the ball.

Vienna is a very agreeable and progressive city with wide pedestrian friendly sidewalks, bikes everywhere, and some completely car-free streets near the cathedral. They even have bike stoplights. Another aspect of this progressive attitude is aggressive government support for the arts, specifically modern art. Apparently the city government frequently buys art and, periodically, puts on themed displays. One of these exhibits was kind enough to invite our entire group (all 200 something of us) to a cocktail reception.

We had to be there at 6 pm and we were almost on time. However, we (or at least I) ran into a hitch when getting ready. I was dressed and I looked in my suitcase to get out my shoes. I didn't see them. I swore. I dumped everything out on the bed. I swore again. Apparently the dress code for this sort of thing was very strict. I quote from the ticket ''Ladies: Formal evening dress or national costume    Gentlemen: Dinner jacket/tuxedo, smoking, formal evening attire with bow tie (no neckties!) 
or national costume" Everyone had made a big deal about the bowties and I assumed that sneakers were not a part of 'formal evening attire'. However, by the time I found out that all I had were tennis shoes and boots it was about 5:45. Jeannie and I decided that I should just wear my regular shoes (fortunately they are black) and hope for the best.

At the cocktail reception our friends assured us that they didn't notice my shoes and that if it came down to it we could just get a few girls with long dresses to walk in front of me. Someone else suggested that if I got turned away Jeannie could go in and find another guy with black shoes and bring them out to me, so that I could wear them in. I found this particularly funny because that's what people do with drivers licences to get under-21-year-olds into bars. Despite the number of excellent and creative solutions proffered by our friends, no one hassled me when we went in. Although this was a weight off my shoulders, I still felt a little like an idiot for wearing running shoes to a formal ball but then again ... meh, aint no thang. 

The place was hoppin. The ball was at the Hofburg and, although it was in a different wing than the Imperial Suites, its seems likely that we were dancing in the very rooms where emperors and empresses had previously danced. Anyways, Jeannie and I went into the bar area and ran into a couple of our classmates. Apparently the opening ceremony was about to kick off, so Jeannie and I decided to go see that. We saw what looked like the main room, walked in, and found ourselves feet from the main stage. 

I think the opening ceremony was about an hour and a half long but here is the short of it. The ball was hosted by the International Atomic Energy Association (a UN organization) and the head of that organization was retiring. So there were a number of speeches (including one by the head, a Nobel laureate), 1.5 opera pieces, some traditional dancing, a performance by a mariachi band, and a waltz by the young debutantes to kick off the dance.

After the opening ceremony,  which seemed to fly by, we made our way to the bar again where we paid an exorbitantly high price for a glass of wine and a beer. Luckily, the bread was free. So we loaded up on that. Additionally, the Austrian Ball Committee (aka the Bologna Center Austrian students) had fundraised to such an extent that they were able to provide multiple glasses of champagne for everyone. Needless to say, we had a lovely time. 

There was live music in every room of the palace- we stopped by the swing, rock, and reggae rooms. Unlike some of our more energetic classmates who were closed down the palace, at around 2 am we were ready to call it a night. 

We both slept very well and were ready for another day of sightseeing by the time we woke up. The first thing we did was go to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's house. Well, one of them. Mozart never lived anywhere for more than two or three years. It was interesting to see how he lived. He apparently made tons of money, but spent it more quickly than he could make it. By seeing the place, I had hoped to imbibe some of his musical talent, but alas, I still can't play the violin. It was really neat see how a genius like Mozart created music and lived. 

After that, we wandered around Vienna for the rest of the day, going into various coffee shops and enjoying (or not) various good (and bad) desserts. We finished our day with delicious Austrian beer, and the first and only Taiwanese vegetarian restaurant in Vienna. Which, interestingly enough, is not staffed by Taiwanese. After talking to our server some I asked which part of Taiwan she was from and, in an awkward turn of the conversation, she pointed out that she was from southern China. So that's weird.