Monday, April 16, 2018

With New Eyes

While some of my spring "weekend tripping" was of the impulse buy variety and I am beginning to think that I might be overcompensating for the absence of business travel in my life, ahem, just a tiny bit, the weekend in Vilnius was booked on Christmas Eve. I got my Mum (pictured above) a voucher for a weekend in any European city of her choice for Christmas and since she is as eager as I am when it comes to travelling, we went ahead and booked a few hours later. Like mother, like daughter., I suppose. She picked Vilnius as she had never been there and a friend, who stopped there en route to Finland last year told her she really loved it. Unlike Mum, I know the city (centre) quite well, having been there on quite a few business trips back in the days at the Firm. I always really liked Vilnius, the town, but job-wise, I much preferred to spend my time in Sofia and ultimately struck a deal with my manager asking if I could put the focus of my activities on Bulgaria, rather than the Baltics. Although, objectively, Vilnius is way more attractive than Sofia, I just felt more comfortable there as far as local colleagues and clients were concerned. The Baltic people I met seemed of the "glass half empty" variety whereas the Bulgarians definitely were team "glass half full" and everything seemed to be more fun and lighthearted there.
Vilnius, however, is not at fault there and so it was a rather novel experience for me, this time. I had booked the fanciest hotel in town and the weather Gods had mercy on us (probably having decided we had our fair share of winter and wet feet in Bukarest), and got to see the city through the eyes of a tourist. My mother really loved it, too, and we both agreed that the pace was decidedly slower and more laid-back than in Vienna. If we had been on a busy schedule, the not exactly speedy service in restaurants and the decidedly "Communist customer service attitude" in some shops might have bothered us, but as we weren't we just went with the flow and had a great time. We thoroughly enjoyed our 48 hours in town, strolling around at our own pace, ticking off the main sights and discovering some interesting details. I decided that next year, I'll treat Mum to a weekend in Tallinn, a city I know less well than Vilnius and am curious to revisit.

Monday, April 09, 2018

O Sola Mia [sic!]

This past weekend I was in Milan. All on my own. It was great. My friends know that I love travelling and so I kindly got a flight voucher for Austrian Airlines, our national carrier. Needless to say, it took me only 2 days until I had redeemed it for a return flight to Milan. I did not feel like waiting until I had found a date that would suit a potential travel companion so went ahead and booked flight and hotel for myself, with the option of having someone join me at a later stage, which I would not have minded. Just the same, I actually quite like visiting cities where I have already been before on my own. Even though my relationship status has been of the "it's complicated" and/or "it's just not happening" variety in the past decade, appreciating solo travel is something that I don't see as a sad byproduct of being single at all. I have lots of friends and a mother who all love to travel and consider me a pleasant travel companion, meaning I have "return customers". Despite that, I sometimes really like some me time and therefore not only don't mind solo travelling, but prefer it. There's a popular saying in Italian ("meglio sola che male accompagnata"), that really resonates with me. It says  that it is better to be alone than in bad company. Even if my choice of company would be far from "bad", I still sometimes politely decline and prefer my own company. While there is a handful of people who I consider my travel soulmates, more or less, travelling with others - as lovely as they might be out of a travelling-together-context - actually decreases my level of travel-gratification. I'd much rather pay more for a single room and in return not have to put up with somebody who needs more sleep, is indecisive in shops that don't interest me, hates spending money (we all know that money spent abroad is Monopoly money, right?), is way more interested in visiting all "it" restaurants than sights...the list goes on. What is your take on solo travel?

Monday, April 02, 2018

Don't Go There!

Decoration inspo from the Romanian Kitsch Museum ;-)
I guess ever since Eve was instructed NOT to eat that shiny apple in Paradise, there is something irresistible about things we are explicitly instructed or even just recomended NOT to do. Not quite as extreme, but I have frequently been told that I should not bother visiting Bucharest as it was "ugly, boring and depressing". Admittedly, I had let myself be influenced by that verdict of pretty much everyone who had ever been there among my friends (with the exception of one enthusiastic friend in whose heart Bucharest holds the same special place as Sofia does in mine) and would not have paid a hefty sum to go there. When the city popped up in Austrian Airlines’ recent offers for mileage rewards, however, I pitched the trip to my Mum and off we went. What we had not anticipated in this geographically more Southern place than Vienna was to find the city covered in a thick layer of snow at the end of March. You could argue that snow actually makes some ugliness prettier by metaphorically sugar coating it, but I am sure I would have like Bucharest even better without wet feet and the constant danger of a "rooftop avalanche" landing on our heads. We had read about the many beautiful parks, but not had the opportunity to enjoy them because of the weather. Even so, I can imagine how nice the Old Town must look in summer and how lively the city probably is in the warmer months. On the other hand, we might not have visited so many museums if the weather had been friendlier. And those museums really were worth a visit! In a nutshell: if you are interested in weekend breaks off the beaten track and want to put a pin on the map in the “Wild East”, I can wholeheartedly recommend visiting Bucharest.
Any other cities you think I should not bother visiting?

Monday, March 26, 2018

Fan Mail

I don’t know about YOU, but I find it both very touching and mildly embarrassing when people let you know, either in person, or in writing that they think you are a very special person to them and they value you highly. It does not happen to me very often, but recently there was an interesting concentration of such incidents. One of my best friends seized the occasion of my birthday to write some very personal lines and thank me for being a great friend to her over the years. It made me very happy to read that indeed. Even more recently, somebody whom I had always, personally, considered to be more of a “casual friend” surprised me with a card to let me know I was “the best thing that happened to me these past months” and that same day actually also asked me if I had “always been this cool and uncomplicated”. Being me, I kind of made a joke out of it and asked if she wanted to get my autograph. I told her that a lovely ex-colleague (who is a generation younger than me) once said out of the blue “You know what, if you ever decide to write a self-help book, I would totally buy it.” It has become a joke among the two of us and she always tells me that her friends know me as “that cool (ex) colleague of yours”. Won’t lie, I feel quite flattered, even more so to be considered “cool” and a source of inspiration to somebody in their late twenties. My friend - the one with the lovely card - nodded, when I told her and said “I would totally buy that too!”, which made me laugh. Perhaps I should write a self-help book?! Not that I am familiar with that genre in the least, nor consider my own life a shining example in any way. Not married, no kids, no penthouse in a trendy location. Quite possibly a complete and utter failure in the eyes of many people, but very happy both with what I have and what I have become over the years.
Such “fangirl” behaviour is like a warm hug and compensation for the fact that not all outpours of love and friendship are sincere and long-lived and sometimes those people who seem most smitten with you at first reveal themselves to be fair-weather friends. Yep, speaking from experience here. Be that as it may, I’ll definitely make sure to let the amazing people in my life know that they are amazing more often!

Monday, March 19, 2018

It's the Little Things...

Remember when I did this "exercise" for a full year, writing a weekly post on things that made me happy the previous week? Well, while I don't formally do this anymore, i,e, take the time to write it down, I still sometimes reflect on those little or big things. Like this past week, when I devoured an old-school "offline" paperback book, one of 5 books I had received for my birthday, enjoyed my Russian language lesson with the same funny and charismatic teacher I had the first time I took lessons with Berlitz (we were assigned another - horrible - teacher at first, but then thankfully got her as a replacement), or hung out with some lovely people on the weekend. One of them was an ex-colleague from the Firm (honorary president of my "fanclub"), the other a colleague (the one who keeps me sane) from my current one.  Well, that only took nine months! Ever since starting at Household Name, I had acutely felt the void that "hanging out with colleagues" had left. Sure, I still occasionally met colleagues from my two past jobs, but I had not yet bonded enough with the current ones that I would socialise with them after hours. Some people might actually be very happy about this situation, but for me it was a bit strange after all these years of working with friends who also happened to be colleagues. (We went to see the Keith Haring exhibition - hence the picture).

Monday, March 12, 2018


Last week I was in Salzburg on business. The purpose of my trip was to join an external trainer holding workshops at the Salzburg city branch of Household Name. The topic of the workshop was "strengths-based leadership", the audience people-managers. In order to make the round of introductions more interesting and already put attendees in the right mindset of focusing on strengths, the trainer wrote 3 questions on the flipchart. "What is my name and function?" "Why am I here?" "What am I - at least a little - good at?". Now the same format of workshop has been held at the Vienna office several times and the first time I read these instructions, I found it very strange to have included this modifier "at least a little". I mean, who can't name at least one thing they are good at immediately, be it a private or a work-related fact. Then I thought about it and realised that 10 years of working for an American company completely made me change my mind and become much "braggier" than I was before. When you are constantly asked to reflect on and talk about all the "amaaaazing" things you did on a daily basis, it becomes second nature at some point. Even for Austrians or other Central European whose mentality almost forbids them to do so, for fear of being thought arrogant and boastful. By including that modifying "at least a little bit" you make it easier for those who struggle to talk about what they are good at. 
The workshop also includes a session where you split up in smaller groups and talk about, among other things, something that made you proud of the previous week. It's always interesting to see who talks about something from their private life and who picks something job-related. Myself, I am "at least a little bit" proud of pretty spontaneously posting my first ever article on LinkedIn last week, which I guess is a bit of both business and pleasure.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Go Royal or Go Home

Unlike me, Mademoiselle is pretty clued up on European high aristocracy. This is mainly due to the fact that she grew up stealthily reading the glossy magazines her parents had subcriptions for to keep patients in her father's (a doctor) waiting room entertained. Thus, an interest in miscellaneous royalties was planted into her early in life. In summer 2015, Chiquita and I spent a few lovely days in Stockholm. When I mentioned to Mademoiselle that we were going there, she said "Hey, isn't this when Prince Carl Philip is getting married?" My reply was something like "There is a Prince, too?" as I was only aware of the two Swedish princesses. Turned out there was indeed and he was getting married the very weekend we were there. Thankfully, the Swedes seemed pretty chilled about the whole affair and it was all very low-key as far as royal weddings go.
This past Saturday, we were on a train to Salzburg, leafing through a January issue of UK Hello! magazine that a friend had given me in Sofia the weekend before. Half of it was about Princes William and Harry, including the latter's wedding. "Wait a moment", Mademoiselle said, "Could it be that the wedding is right on the weekend when we'll be in London in May?". I quickly consulted the internet and found that, yep, this was indeed the case. Something tells me that being in town when Harry and Meghan are getting hitched will be slightly crazier and security will be extra tight. On the bright side, it might be a good time to visit museums and shopping precints while everyone else is glued to the TV screen or lining the streets of Windsor. We shall see...
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