Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Budding Capitalism

Today, on December 28, the day that is commemorated as the Day of the Massacre of the Innocents, children go schappen in Carinthia. You can read about this custom in this Wikipedia article here (German only), but basically it is children going from door to door to wish good luck and get money and/or sweets in return. A bit like trick-or-treating.

My mum and I were getting ready to go skiing when the doorbell rang. Dad and I rummaged for coins and opened the door to a little boy who asked if he could schapp us. When he had finished his short routine and pocketed his money, Dad was about to close the door when he noticed another boy who had lurked nearby and overheard the short but efficient exchange between them. "How much?" second boy simply asked the successful returnee schapper. The answer must have been satisfactory as he rang our doorbell about 3 seconds after that...

Monday, December 26, 2011

Best of the Rest

Wooo, I found this post in my "drafts" folder with photos already uploaded so I can share my last Sydney purchases with you despite the fact that I left my camera (with the last pics on its SD card) in Vienna.

On my last Saturday, I walked across the Harbour Bridge (and back) and discovered the Kirribilli art & design market under its Milsons Point pylon. There, I came across a stall where a Chinese (looking) lady sold laser-cut reversible leather jewellery that was spray-painted either gold or silver. I loved the silver necklace she wore herself, but it turned out that whereas it complemented her grey hair gorgeously, it washed me out and we decided my complexion was better suited to gold. I settled for this pretty piece that cost AUD 31:

I decided I couldn't possibly leave the country without buying a Mimco clutch and therefore seized the opportunity that David Jones had a -25% off sale. The small print revealed that this only applied to purchases over $ 150 and the clutch was 149. I thought that this wouldn't be a problem for easy-going Australians, but apparently the cash-register wasn't as flexible and so I "needed" to grab something else. I settled for a little purse, sister of the black one I bought weeks before and will now probably give away as a present even though I find it even sexier with its gold name-button on the front. I already have somebody in mind...
December issues of magazines contained some interesting freebies, such as this Butter of London nail polish. I really like the shimmery beige colour and the smooth application.
Marie Claire came with a Seafolly beach dress that impresses with good quality and a decent fit despite being one-size-fits-all. I have my doubts at the "valued at $ 69.95" as the material is acrylic, but I will definitely wear it next summer as I love stripes.
Remember the blue skinny jeans I bought? The Mermaid loved them so much she tried to hunt down a pair for herself, but alas they had disappeared from the shops. I found a long (i.e. bum-covering) asymmetrical top by Australian designer Wayne Cooper at Myer. To me, it looks very Australian by virtue of a) its bright colours and b) its photo print: two characteristics that can be found in most brands summer collections.

The dusty pink of the top is the exact shade of my $10 gladiator sandals: bonus!
Needless to say, this top, the beach dress and the sandals are destined for hibernation now that I'm back in the Northern Hemisphere. The clutch, however, might get an outing soon and I'm wearing the necklace today.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Vegetating 2.0

The Christmas holidays are all about vegetating on the couch, reading, eating, watching TV. And repeat. Personally, I'm more into the reading, than into the TV part, although I won't say no to a rerun of Love Actually. Ever.

This year, I gave myself a Kindle for Christmas. I know I am very late jumping onto this bandwagon, but I had to overcome my prejudices first. I turned up my nose at the idea of reading books in any other than offline form when electronic readers first came out, considering the mere idea sacrilegious. After holding one in my hands some months ago and being bombarded by Amazon's friendly newsletters and seeing it prominently placed on their homepage, I gave in and I'm loving it! Best thing EVER. I decided to go for the more expensive and heavier 3G version and hope to get into the situation where I run out of literature on a deserted beach (with internet coverage, ahem) soon to justify it.

You can see it in the picture below, sitting on a photo book on a (bicycle) road trip through Australia that I actually won while in Australia and had sent to my parents. I like to enter competitions, me...

Since I didn't do any Christmas baking myself this year, Mum took over the task and asked me for my recipes collection. She was almost nervous that I would give her positive feedback and took it personally when I didn't tuck in straight away after getting home. It took me a while to switch into winter/Christmas mode, but I've tried them all now and definitely approve. She baked various biscuits, made chocolates and truffles (which she always does anyways) and tried gingerbread for the first time, using my paternal granny's family recipe. This is a picture of the gingerbread:

The couch and 3 months worth of magazine subscriptions are beckoning now...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays

A very Merry Christmas (or whatever it is you are celebrating these days) to you, yes, I mean YOU out there.

Despite the fact that I enjoyed my 3 months in Sydney so so much and they went by in a flash, it feels good to be home for Christmas and its traditions, such as meeting friends in town on the morning of the 24th and decorating the Christmas tree, which I finished about half an hour ago. In honour of the return of the prodigal daughter, the tree is as big as it hasn't been since I was a child. I love the smell of real fir trees and our eclectic collection of - deliberately - mismatched ornaments:
It still hasn't snowed in KLU, but temperatures are sub-zero and frost gives leaves a pretty icing:
I only popped into town quickly yesterday...long enough to pick up a (GEOX) down coat that was on sale at Peek & Cloppenburg. My new Ugg boots are practically glued to my feet these days as I feel the cold more intensely as I otherwise would. I've missed my winter clothes, though and don't mind huddling up.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Speed Dating with Presents, Why I Feel Naked and Other Observations

I arrived back in winter wonderland on Tuesday. My two flights (9 and 11 hours respectively) were a torturous collection of superlatives. Flight 1 included the fattest neighbour - guess who "won" the armrest - and clumsiest flight attendant (who dropped a tray three times and bumped into my elbow twice with her trolley), flight 2 boasted the baby and toddler with the most piercing squeals imaginable...

I fought against jetlag by staying up late every day and slotting in 3 to 4 dates with friends every day (Mr. TD called it speed dating, not entirely untrue). Although I had agreed on a Christmas present "non-agression pact" with my friends this year, I was surprised by several cool gifts: Mademoiselle made me another lovely advent calendar, the bonus of receiving it on the 21st being that I could rip open most of the parcels in one greedy go: hah! Amica spoilt the Vienna "chapter" of our book club with cool t-shirts with a Union Jack and "proud member of the Book of the Month club" and Frida gave me a bottle of wine the label of which she designed.

When I popped into the office on Tuesday, I was almost stifled by the hug MC gave me. I might not exactly be looking forward to work in Vienna as such, but it feels good to be reunited with the "Schatzis".

I could have inserted one or two photos here, but in my multi-tasking flurry of activities this morning I left my camera in the flat in Vienna...which I only realised on the train to KLU. Duh! As you know, I never go ANYwhere without my camera...I feel utterly naked without it and will either have to borrow one from my parents to keep up with the usual point-and-shooting or will resort to my new phone's inbuilt camera...we'll see.

Even though there is no snow in Vienna yet, it was of course considerably colder than Sydney (by about 25°) and my skin felt parched the minute I landed. I have been slapping on hand cream like mad, but it doesn't seem to make a difference. Thanks to an Australian miracle drug called "Frequent Flier" that I had already forced on my Mum and the Mermaid, who didn't get sick either, I did not catch the usual nasty plane cold. I thought I would find it difficult to adjust to the short winter days, but interestingly, that is no big deal. I find it more difficult to readjust to cars driving on the right (in both senses) side of the road and ran into one yesterday after I looked right, rather than left before crossing the street.

Despite the fact that I love buying and making presents, I really enjoyed this stress-free Christmas and actually would like to continue this new tradition of not exchanging Christmas presents with friends. I have yet to find out whether I didn't miss baking in the least just because I was away in warmer climates or - gasp - because I've grown tired of it, but I don't even have cravings for Christmas cookies, either. Well, ask me again in a few days when I might have eaten my weight in Vanillekipferln and Lebkuchen...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

What I'm Looking Forward To

...likewise not necessarily in that order.

1. Christmas lights and in fact all things to do with Christmas
There are some pretty nice Christmas decorations in Sydney, too, but to this Northern Hemisphere person it just doesn't look christmassy when there's summer outside and the trees are plastic as opposed to real. Plus we don't get gifts by Santa, but Christkind...I'm looking forward to the smell of real fir trees, ginger bread cookies and above all the beautiful chandeliers on Graben and the "fairylights rain" on Kohlmarkt. That's assuming they haven't changed the decorations this year.

2. A washing machine that doesn't turn my whites yellow
The Mermaid came up with the theory that the water is softer here than ours back home (this could explain why my hair always looked shit too with the only exception of the 4 days post visit to the hairdresser). Despite several washing powders and liquids and stain removers I tried all my white tops came out of the machine with yellow stains under the armpits and round the collar. A change of deodorant didn't help and it wasn't just my "aggressive" sweat either - the same occurred to the Mermaid's shirts when she washed them in my machine. Not an attractive look and not an issue I've ever had at home.

3. Friends and the social life associated with it
My colleagues here have been incredibly nice to me and I was always included in group activities, but ultimately everyone leads their own lives. It always takes some weeks to make friends, but then it's time to leave again. I vividly remember the annoyance at my old boss who always insisted at least someone in the team entertained visitors. You're not always in the mood to change your plans to play tourist guide or go out with random strangers so I didn't have any expectations and actually quite liked all the me-time. In all fairness, I didn't take the initiative and organise anything either, but when I didn't have any visitors here I sometimes wished I had company to hang out with, explore nice places with together. Not that I'm a wild party animal at home, but it still makes a difference when your friends live in the same city, or even in the same time-zone.

4. Swimming in lakes
I loved the fact that Sydney is surrounded by the sea and always envy people who live in countries that are not landlocked like Austria. When it comes to swimming, though, which you know I love, Bondi or Manly are not the place to go to. They're great for surfing and other adrenaline-fuelled water sports, but not so much for actual swimming. Nothing beats good old Wörther See!

5. Reasonable prices...for everything
It didn't take me long to get over the shock that everything is so incredibly expensive here. I still remember landing at SYD airport and going into the WHSmith branch in the arrivals hall to buy a bottle of water. Briefly taking in the prices of bottled drinks, crisps, chocolate bars and the like I thought these must be inflated tourist prices because it was the airport. When I went grocery shopping the same night I realised that this was in fact the regular price level. Ouch! As we all know it's only "monopoly money" when you're abroad anyway so I just whipped out my credit card and forgot about it.

It did act as a good deterrent for impulse purchases. E.g. I would have loved to buy a COACH handbag, but was simply not willing to pay twice as much as in the U.S. To give you another handbag example - the large Longchamp Le Pliage bag (quite popular here, I noticed) is about € 80 back home, but a whopping AU$ 205 here.

Prices for meals are most shocking of all even if food is excellent quality in most places. You could take out a whole family in Vienna on what you pay for one person in Sydney in restaurants of comparable level.

It's fine when you live in an expensive city as a spoilt expat like me, but not so much fun when you are a resident.

6. TV programmes that inform me of REAL news
I won't make the generalization that all Australian TV is crap, but the channels I had in the subscription in my apartment certainly were. I now know more about Kim Kardashian and her extended family than I ever wanted to, but very little of what went on in Australian or World politics. Even if I don't watch much TV at home I'm looking forward to the ZIB.

7. Not having to worry about baggage limits when buying stuff
Again, it was quite a good "contraceptive" at times to look at something really tempting (such as that cool so-called "occasional table" in orange metal at Freedom, sigh!) and realise you won't be able to pack it for size or weight reasons. Still, I'm an instant gratification type of person and am looking forward to just having to worry about carrying it home from the shop.

8. Having all my clothes and accessories at my disposal
Not least because of the weather that was considerably wetter than I had bargained for and the fact that it was always freezing cold in the office I ended up wearing either a) rather casual stuff and b) had to constantly pair it with a hoody to ward off the cold. I am looking forward to being dressed fashionably rather than functionally again and to having all my beloved bags at my disposal.

9. Being the norm, rather than a freak because I don't go to the gym
Shortly before coming to Sydney, I read an article in the UK Marie Claire on why a growing number of Brits chose to return home after years in Sydney. One interviewee that said her decisive moment was when at a party everyone just talked about how one guest had just broken the record in stairs-climbing or some such and it made her realise how much she missed "profound" conversations. Now I'm not saying that people are more shallow here in any way, nor that I indulge in oh-so deep & meaningful conversations all the time (unless bitching and talking about shopping sprees counts), but I did wish I had a coin for every time the words "gym", "personal trainer" or "workout" were mentioned at breakfast or lunch at work. Once I had overcome the shock of people outside of L.A. actually having a personal trainer, the novelty soon wore off. I can't help it but and for a sports-phobe like me it just holds the same fascination (not) as toddler-related subjects, such as the choice of kindergarten, the pros and cons of certain vaccinations, etc.

10. Vienna tap water
I don't know any local or visitor who doesn't consider our water the best to be had. It comes out of the tap ice-cold and in unrivalled quality. Sydney tap water isn't that great, even though a filter helped a lot. It's not bad in any way, but I'm looking forward to the Viennese one.

Friday, December 16, 2011

What I'll Miss (Not Neccessarily in That Order)

1. Fresh passionfruit grown locally

I had never tasted fresh passionfruit (or maracuja, as we call it) before coming to Sydney. It is not sold in regular supermarkets in Austria at all and just one of those fruits that I wouldn't buy anyway, suspicious that the long journey they were on had robbed them of any taste and vitamins, plus the brutal carbon footprint they would have left on the way.

2. The breathtaking views at Circular Quay

You know that I was rather underwhelmed by the Opera House upon arrival when rainy weather made it look beige and not too glamorous. In sunlight, however, the view of both the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, preferably with a huge cruiseliner docked at the Overseas Passenger Terminal takes your breath away and wants you take the 100th picture of it...which I did.

3. Jacaranda trees

They have shed their pretty lilac/purple blossoms now, but I could not get enough of them when they were in full bloom in spring. I had not seen them anywhere before and was totally wowed by their gorgeous colour.

4. "Coffee art"

Australian baristas make seriously good coffee and decorate the foam with either a leaf or a heart. Once a guy even decorated my take-out flat white that was hidden under a plastic lid anyway. Coffee is not only good, but one of the few things that are actually cheaper than in Vienna, the city that considers itself the capital of coffee.

5. Friendly and easy-going people

Whoever I told that I was going to spend 3 months in Sydney and who had ever met Australians told me "You'll see, they are SO chilled." This is so true and regarding work-life balance I can't imagine any office I'd rather work than the Sydney branch of the Firm. It is so So different from Europe where you would rarely have a client lunch that involves alcohol (frowned upon in a work context in the middle of the day) in the first place and not have lunches that stretch out to casual afternoon drinks and result in everybody going straight home afterwards. I don't doubt the relationship-building benefits of that in the least, but I never ceased to be amazed that this didn't get the person who initiated it into trouble, but was in fact expected behaviour.

It took me a while to adapt/reply to conversations with shop assistants asking me either what I had done so far that particular day or whether I had anything in particular planned for the rest of the day (more innovative than American shop staff, no doubt!), but it is ultimately very friendly and makes a nice change from the grumpy Viennese who in fact see their grumpiness as a charming USP.

6. Long daylight hours

I have forgotten that when I'll be back home, it will be pitch dark by 4:30 p.m. due to the fact that it is of course the darkest time of winter. Not something I look forward to at all.

7. Actually Looking Forward to Going to Work

In Vienna, I often get that familiar (or is it?) Sunday night blues along the lines of "Bleurgh, tomorrow's Monday and I need to get back to work...". Here, the work environment was just so much more relaxed that I actually dread going back to my old routine. I realise that this is partly due to the fact that I was a "guest-worker" and didn't have to shift the same workload I would have had to regularly, but it's not so much about work than the work environment.

8. Less is More

Despite the fact that - predictably enough - I shopped quite a bit here and therefore amassed heaps of clothes and other stuff, I actually really liked the "reduced lifestyle" in my little apartment. It makes you realised how much clutter you have back home that you don't actually miss in the least.

9. Asian shops and restaurants

Due to the large amount of people of Asian origin who live in Sydney, there is a great choice of Asian shops and restaurants and while the majority of those are Chinese there are quite a few Japanese (and Korean, etc.) ones as well and I'll miss Books Kinokunya, where I loved to browse, above all. There's not much in the way of authentic Asian lifestyle in Vienna and I'll miss that.

10. Discovering new things every day

When you live abroad temporarily, you discover so many new and interesting things all the time. You may not necessarily like every single one of them, but you always notice them and it makes your life more interesting and "colourful" than the same old routine.

10 things I am looking forward to coming up next...stay tuned!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bridge Spotting for Beginners

You've heard of train spotters, but did you know that there were bridge nerds as well? Actually, I am making an assumption here, but my unexpected look behind the scenes of Pyrmont Bridge, apparently "the world's oldest electric swingspan bridge" leads me to believe that there are probably people (of the male persuasion) around who do this all the time. I digress.

When the Mermaid and I went for a drink at Darling Harbour, I mentioned that according to the Australian (my friend, not the newspaper) Pyrmont bridge opened in the middle, but I had my doubts as a) I had never seen it in all of my 11 weeks in Sydney and b) hello? Monorail track right on top of it? Obviously I had a typical vertical kind of opening in mind, not having heard of "swingspan bridges" before.

The day after our conversation we crossed said bridge on the way to the monthly Growers' Market in Pyrmont and halfway across the bridge saw an old man in "uniform" fiddle with a lock near the bridge's railing. "Let's ask him if the bridge opens", the Mermaid said and walked off into his direction. "Nah, let's not," I said, feeling slightly embarrassed. In the end he turned out to be happy and flattered that those two tourists displayed such an interest in the bridge's mechanisms and invited us up onto the little hut in the middle of the bridge and into his realm of interesting machinery:

I was actually reminded of the old trams we had in Vienna:
He also invited us to watch the opening at 10:30 from up there but we passed and just watched it from outside the Maritime Museum. This is what a swingspan bridge looks like when it opens...tadah:
aaaand: opened completely!
Pretty impressive, huh? I asked what happened when the electricity failed and Mr. Bridge man actually said that you could open it manually as well, but it took 4 (? if I remember correctly) men or so and their combined forces.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Last (?) Sydney Haul

So. I'm flying back next Monday [insert sigh here] and have started bringing the stuff I don't intend to bring back to Vienna (e.g. mugs and bowls and misc. household stuff I bought) to the office to give to a Swiss colleague who recently moved here and is moving into her apartment later this week. Thankfully, the Mermaid took quite a few of my clothes and purchases with her, but I should still do some "test-packing" later this week to try and figure out if I'll fit everything into my two suitcases. Here are some things I bought in the last two weeks:

The Mermaid and I bought each other "friendship jewellery", i.e. bought a pair of things we liked. First, she bought two necklaces with a wooden heart in Leura in the Blue Mountains, then I bought a matching pair of eelskin (!) bracelets at Paddington Market last Saturday. I love both:

At the Finders Keepers Market which we attended the Saturday before I finally bought a wooden brooch. I have to admit that I don't usually wear brooches, but after seeing them in so many shops in several cities here, I realised I "needed" one. I love this "origami" cat:

Yesterday on my way home from work I bought the inevitable pair of uggs that no tourist can leave without. Nobody seems to wear them here (no wonder since it isn't that cold and rains a lot), but I definitely intend to get a lot of wear out of them in the Austrian winter. I found a pair in a really nice purple and made sure to check for a sturdy(ish) sole that won't wear off diagonally and make me look like a teenager who can't lift her feet off the ground when walking after the first outing:

I don't know if I have mentioned it here, but unlike elsewhere, "ugg" is a generic name for sheepskin products and not ONE (expensive) brand of shoes/gloves/earmuffs. Hence dozens, if not hundreds, of different UGG brands exist side by side in Australia and the discerning tourist can choose from different colours of labels on the heel and original bynames, such as UGG Sydney, UGG Bondi, Shearers UGG, etc. Uggs are also almost exclusively sold in souvenir shops, some of which seem to target mainly Chinese tourists, so I initially thought these were all fakes. In fact, one brand is just as "genuine" as the next and you just have to shop around to find a pair (the price of which) you like and which seems suitable for the European climate. Most shops permanently pretend to have a "sale" with before and now prices, but the allure wears off when you pass the alleged once-in-a-lifetime-and-today-only! opportunity every day.

I am, however, really happy with mine and hope they last. I intend to wear them on the flight home to have nice warm feet on a plane for once...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Mermaid Has Taken a Dive

...or rather, she is swimming back to Austria as I write. It was lovely to have her here and I really appreciate her undertaking a 24-hours-journey to be with me a mere 10 days. I wish the weather had been better, but at least she left in summer...ish weather and we got to spend a half day at the beach yesterday. We walked from Bronte to Bondi beach and it was near the Bondi Icebergs club that she spotted this banner which just begged for a photo (I should add a disclaimer, too: the "interesting" shorts with the Coca-Cola print on the bum are a donation of an ex-colleague of hers who bought them a size too small for herself and not something the Mermaid would buy for herself, nor wear back home where people know her):

The Mermaid, she loves flip-flops and when she arrived, she had her beloved pair of red Havaianas (purchased on a trip to Thailand) with her. Another 4 pairs of flip-flops in different materials and various degrees of elegance made it into her suitcase. The one she wears in the photo and the pair next to it are by Ipanema and were 25% off at Myer's:
I also gave her my own pair of glittery navy Ipanemas (from the Giselle Bündchen collection) which I had intended to dump here even though they are barely worn, just because I don't find the particularly comfortable. I wish I could just buy any old pair of flip-flops (or thongs, as they are called here), but unfortunately, most really hurt on my feet and it is basically only the actual Flip-Flop brand and Crocs flip-flops that I can comfortably wear.

This might be a blessing in disguise in order to prevent me from amassing a collection to rival the Mermaid's...

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Me in Pictures

Apart from their lovely company per se and the entertainment they provide, visitors have the added benefit of taking many pictures of you so that you don't have to accost strangers and ask if they could take a picture of you posing next to a landmark.

When I recently went through my photos and found quite a few that were "anonymous" enough for this blog among those taken by my Mum, the Australian and the Mermaid. Here's a selection:



Manly again


Sydney (Darling Harbour)

Sydney (Ampersand Café & Bookstore)

Brisbane (Queensland Gallery of Modern Art)

Monday, December 05, 2011

Willing Disciple

Last Thursday, the Mermaid arrived (yaaaay!). She's only here for 9 days and deliberately chose to come towards the end of my time here "when it will be warmer". So much for the theory. Unfortunately, she hasn't been blessed with great weather and apart from sightseeing has kept herself busy This is the exploit from Day One, very much approved by me:

Speaking of shopping...ahem. I added yet another (6th or 7th, must count my "Sydney collection" pair of shoes the day of her arrival. Once more, Wittner (luring me in with a 40% sale) delivered:
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