Friday, June 29, 2012

Austria meets Australia? (+ birthday party)

 Yesterday (June 28th, 2012)

Started out the morning helping prep for a birthday party (my austrian father almost had me drive a stickshift car to the grocery star that he had has a rental but I had to explain to him that stick shift cars aren't as popular in U.S. and that I wasn't familiar with one) but then went to my austrian sister's school for a 'Austria meets Australia' performance. Apparently Austrians are well aware people mix up the names 'Austria' and 'Australia'. They even have shirts saying 'I'm from Austria' with a kangaroo crossed out on it. I went to this performance not sure what to expect but there turned out to be some english, etc. Also a lot of music and dancing. This performance also seemed to double as a acknowledgement of who is graduating as well as show casing some of the individual skills of the students. There are quite a few videos and if you don't want to watch all of them then I highly suggest the video of the girl singing a rendition of Adele's 'Someone like you' it was quite good. Since I was sitting a little ways away I couldn't see all of the dancers' feet but there were some very energetic performances.

Something interesting to note that my austrian father mentioned as we were watching the performances is that not all the kids are originally from Austria or speak German at home. He said some speak Turkish, Serbian, and Croatian at home (immigrated). Also this was a middle school with age groups from 11 to 16 (the austrian school system is a little confusing to me but if you are curious I can try to explain to those interested).

I'm a kangaroo?

 Plane ride to Australia (24 hours in 20 seconds)

 How can we talk about Australia and not do the "Down Under" song?

Fantastic dancing!

 Rendition of Adele's "Someone like you"

Wait for it... Wait for it... Newspaper skirts?!

The boys with more swagger

The song is in Spanish. I'm actually somewhat familiar with it; I think the song was one of the top videos on youtube for a day or two. Lets see how many of you know it :D

Then we went out to lunch in Villach, or was it brunch? Anyway it was at Cafe Rainer and I ordered some sort of pancake with spinach and cheese. The pancake turned out more to be like a crepe but it was quite good. Also had some apple ice cream but it melted so fast I didn't have time to take a picture of it; had to eat it!

My meal

My austrian sister concentrating on her toast

We swung by the Interspar and picked up some 'Cola'. I found out what they call cola isn't really cola. Its more of an austrian version of pop/soda which has a somewhat ginger root taste.

We picked up my austrian brother from school and headed back to the house for a birthday party! ON the way back home the radio was talking about U.S. healthcare and possible judgements the Supreme Court might make. Once again I was in the awkward position of trying to explain U.S. healthcare to my austrian father who asked 'What happens if you are sick and have no healthcare?'; I could only reply 'While sometime the emergency room might work but otherwise you probably aren't going to get treated....' My austrian father seemed a little aghast. I then tried to explain that even with insurance we still have to pay additional money when we see a doctor (deductibles, etc.) and he just seemed more confused. We got back to the house and went to the lake to swim as my austrian brother's friends showed up for the party.

Lighting the cake!

The cake is sparkling!

Kids gathering around to look at the cake

Exercising caution

Opening up presents

Gathering around to look at one of the presents

The aftermath

Eating cake!

Most of the gifts had to deal with star wars (the clone wars) legos. I at one time mentioned 'what about Luke Skywalker?' and my austrian siblings said 'only skywalker' and showed me their Anakin Skywalker lego *sigh* At least clone wars still have Yoda and Obi Wan. Later, we set off some fireworks in the yard.

Tonight I will be near Graz and won't be back until Saturday evening when I will update my blog. Also the next few days are suppose to be in the 30 degrees celsius range (80 F and up up up) so I might get sunburned again... Ciao!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Quiet Day at the Lake Ossiach (Ossiach see)

Another quiet day reading at the lake. I decided to hold off on going up the mountain because of the clouds but hopefully I will get around to it in the next few weeks. My austrian father was busy with work today but he mentioned on thursday we will have a birthday party and on friday we go to a chocolate factory.

I tried making some grilled cheese sandwiches today which actually turned out nicely and ate some sweets such as neopolitan candy. My austrian family has a candy shelf I am trying to stay away from but it does hold a collection of Lindt chocolate.

I finished reading "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and watched the American version of the film (on computer).

View from dock again

Other side of lake

The swan is back (fed him some stale bread)

The ducks try to get involved in the stale bread action

Shed for things on the lake. In the background you can see the mountain that I plan to eventually go up via lift (lift station in Anaheim)

Hehe, another pretty day

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sprechen Englisch?

Today was just one of those days that people kept stopping to speak German to me. It was kind of funny and I think most of them were trying to talk to me about the weather, but I'm not sure....

Anyway I spend some time in Villach today to do some shopping. The weather was the first damp weather I've seen and it reminded me a little bit of Seattle. It got up to the 70s (F) at one point but once it rained was more around 66 (F).

I pretty much wandered the Hauptplatz and looked at different stores. There was an all Italian clothing store I stopped by to buy some scarves and also an Austrian store where I bought another scarf. The shopkeepers spoke a little English and if I understand correctly the scarves were actually produced in their respective countries.

Scarves I bought. The one on the left and the middle are Italian, the one on the right is Austrian.

I also wandered down some streets I hadn't been down before and saw some interesting storefronts and alleyways.

Is that spongebob? Is this place trying to sell hamburgers? O_o

Alleyway to Hauptplatz

Other side of alleyway

I started to get hungry and I stopped by a place called Strudelhaus. It has various different type of strudels with different fillings (zucchini, meat, etc). I ended up getting some sort of meat strudel.

Not too bad but a little burnt on the bottom and had some overtones of fast food. More the fault of the Strudelhaus though then indicative of the cuisine I think.

I also stopped by a bakery (how could I not?) and picked up a macaroon. It was very good but also very sweet.

Pretty macaroon

I stopped by the Austrian version of a drugstore to pick up some toiletries before heading to the train station. Surprisingly the hardest thing to locate in the store was deodorant. I kept seeing Axe everywhere so I knew it had to be around somewhere. I eventually found it in what I had thought to be the shampoo area.

Does this look like deodorant to you?

I finally reached the train station and as I was waiting for a train back to St. Urban station I noticed some very dark clouds in the distance.

Train station with ominous looking weather
It ended up a thunderstorm rolled in and there was quiet a bit of rain, thunder and lightening. I managed to get on the train although my austrian father had to pick me up at the St. Urban train station. 

Raining at my austrian house too. The elevation is not very high but you can see the clouds covering the mountains. From this view the top of the mountains are the border between Austria and Slovenia.

The rest of the day was pretty quiet as the rain continued, but I did help my austrian father a little with a birthday cake he was making for one of my austrian brothers. He allowed me to taste the leftovers from making the cake and told me if my austrian mother was there it wouldn't be allowed. But we were in agreement that we could only see how good the cake was if we could do some sampling. Tomorrow the cake will get delivered to my austrian brother and I will see if I can get up one of the mountains on my side of the lake (via lift). Ciao!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Austrian lake, swans, beer, and hot dogs

Another quiet day (a sunday, so shops were closed and the train was barely running)! I got up a little late this morning (around 10 am) and had a small breakfast before helping my austrian parents finish cleaning up after the barbecue last night. I then headed to the lake to get some reading done. It only got up to upper 70s (F) but I still had to be careful allowing my skin to be in the sun (still dealing with after effects of sunburn, at least now I've passed the 'hurt every time I move' to the 'peeling skin' stage). My austrian mother was curious about my kindle and so I explained to her the different types of books on it. I've noticed most members of my austrian family refer to such a device as an 'e-book'.

At lake, set up on the dock under an umbrella on a chair. With my kindle....
Before I finished reading at the lake I ran into my neighbor, Martin, who invited me to a barbecue later that night. I said 'sure' and hopped over to his side of the lake (really just over the hedge from my austrian family's lakefront property) later that night with some cake (left over from the barbecue from the night before).

(Before the barbecue I had some free time and it with my Austrian grandfather who spoke with me a little in English and taught me some German words (welcome, days of week, time of days, etc.). He mentioned that I should ask my austrian father to only speak German to me so I could learn it and I laughed somewhat nervously).

At the barbecue I was offered some lemon beer (in case you were curious it was Zipfer beer although it is not the only beer that has a type of lemon flavor; just seems the most commonly drunk; also cans seem to come in .5 liter sizes). A few other friends of Martin showed up and some hot dogs were put on the grill. The type of hot dogs they were grilling were hot dogs with cheese inside, wrapped in bacon. Yes you read that correctly. CHEESE and BACON. How could I say no?

Barbecue meal (with the hot dog of course)
Some swans showed up at the shore and we fed them some bread we had laying around. Martin tried to coax the swans to come up on the shore but they firmly remained in the water at the shoreline.

The swans

Martin feeding the swans
It was interesting to talk to some people closer to my age. From my observations smoking is much more common in Austria among the younger generations (than in the U.S.) and from conversation I learned that laws about smoking inside buildings were just made two years ago (still can smoke in some parts of bars, but now have non-smoking areas). We also touched a little bit on the subject of alcohol and they mentioned that a shot of tequila can go anywhere from 5 to 10 euros in a bar. They also mentioned that about 1 out of every 10 Austrian farmer now creates schnapps and that almost anything grown on a tree has a schnapps for it in Austria. Other subjects of conversation were about work, school, and life in general.

The guys playing around with water balloons
Tomorrow if my austrian family doesn't have plans I will probably try to visit Villach again but we shall see. Ciao!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Alcohol + Food + People = Barbecue Austrian style

Today started out quiet if rather cloudy (temperature didn't get above low 70s (F)). Since today was the day of the barbecue for my austrian parents, they kept a close eye on the weather, especially as some dark clouds rolled by. Luckily, the weather held cloudy but not rainy and we began to prepare for about 16 people to visit for a barbecue (austrian parents dance, the guests were there dancing partners). The guests were to bring salads an desserts and my austrian parents worked on appetizers and meat (as well as beer).

We stopped for lunch and my austrian mother made a batter of eggs, milk, and flour that she would drop into boiling water to make a type of pasta. It was interesting as I had never seen it done before. My austrian father also pulled out some more lemon beers for lunch. We finished eating around 1 pm and then my austrian parents went to the lake to sit for awhile (I did some reading) and then came back around 2:30 pm to finish the appetizers and other preparations.

Appetizers included tomato on toothpicks with oregano and mozzarella, and sliced bread with a light sauce or a liver pate (photo below).

Bread covered with liver pate and/or a light spread

Guests showed up beginning at 3:30 pm (barbecue started at 4 pm). Some of the guests spoke English but a majority seemed not to. I ran into my austrian grandmother who was talking to me in German. I ended up saying "no sprechen Deutsch' and then my austrian grandmother said 'no sprechen Englisch.'
When a majority of the guests had shown up we walked down to the lake and had some champagne to toast.

On the dock at the lack
 Back at the house my austrian father began to grill both sausages and some sort of steak? to the barbecue.

Austrian father grilling

It seems that those who brought the sweets brought  A LOT of sweets

Cake row

Cake row from other direction

I had dinner outside (was given another lemon beer) and I found that I was enjoying myself even though all the conversations around me were in German. I usually could figure out what was being talked about by the hand gestures and occasional words that were in English (or sounded close enough to their English counterpart). At one point I was asked (in English) about items coming on to Washington shore from Japan (tsunami debris). They seemed worried about the radioactive possibility of the debris and I tried to explain to them that it was more environmental worry (foreign plants, wildlife, etc.) in Seattle.

Dinner plate as I was trying to fill it up.

Dessert was an interesting affair and I tried to have a sample of as many different types of deserts I could.
Dessert time! Upper left is bascially like a chocolate covered cream puff, Everything else was sweet)

The guests left around 10:45 pm leaving a very late late night for my austrian family and I. Tomorrow should be a relaxing day though.

Candle after guests left (on outside table)

Friday, June 22, 2012

Landslide in the Alps (near Salzburg?)

Cooler today, around high 70s (F). I started out the day planning to stay around the house but my austrian father stopped by and mentioned he had a meeting in Villach. He was willing to drop me at the Interspar in Villach so I could walk around and then afterwards we would meet and St. Jakob's church and eat at a bakery.

So I hopped in the car and was dropped off at the Interspar where and started to meander over to the Hauptplatz. On my way there, I ran into some more stores I hadn't seen before.

Storefront to traditional clothes shop
For men

For women

 There were also some stalls out on the street that were selling baked goods, meat, fish, baskets, wooden kitchen tools, etc. I bought a doughnut (?) of some sort that tasted delicious (only 1 euro!).

Delicious baked good that had some sort of apricot jam filling?

 I know I said I wouldn't buy more bubble tea but I found another bubble tea store that was a different chain. Strangely enough they sold bubble tea but no tapioca balls. They had different jellies and these strange balls that were filled with liquid (could get them litchi flavored, etc.). I got hibiscus flavored with the litchi bobas (?) . Actually wasn't too bad although the boba balls were a little weird. Maybe they were back in the U.S. and I just never noticed them before.

Another bubble tea store
I finally made it to Hauptplatz and was even crossing the bridge over the Drau (in the direction of St. Nikolas church) when I got a call from my austrian father. He wanted to meet at the Interspar instead so I quickly walked over to the Interspar and entered the parking lot. My austrian father handed me a sandwhich and some water (also some milka for us to share) he picked up at the Interspar and said that the motorway crew had called him and told him that he was needed at the site. Thus we would need to drive about an hour north/northwest to get there.

We hopped in the car and before leaving Villach stopped by a gas station to fill up the car (and to use the bathroom). While he was driving he explained to me that there had been a lot of rain in Salzburg and that it had created landslides (rain carries loose rock) over roads. His friend, a geologist for the area, had been in a helicopter all morning checking out the roads and taking pictures from the air (some of the roads closed).

We headed a little west first from Villach then north towards Salzburg. We reached an area where there were tunnels to go through the mountain. One side of the tunnel was closed, so traffic went in one direction for a half hour then was switched in the other direction. For us, traffic was heading in the wrong direction for the tunnel so we took the slower back roads over the mountain. Once we went over the mountain we entered a village called St. Michael which is supposedly the coldest area in Austria during the winter (sits betweens two mountains, skiing town). Once we past St. Michael we took a special access road to get to the closed motorway. It was actually a little creepy because there was no other cars on the motorway.

No traffic, just us 

We went through a tunnel and my austrian father mentioned that the person who called him in had warned the people watching the tunnel cameras we were coming so that we wouldn't get fined thousands of euros for entering a closed tunnel. Once we went through the closed tunnel we only traveled a short way before we reached the landslide site.

Arriving at the landslide site
Everyone kept saying Salzburg but we were actually a considerable distance from the city Salzburg (Sankt Michael im lungau is the St. Michael village we passed, we didn't travel much further than that). I'm guessing then that Salzburg is being used to indicate a region and/or because the road we were working on was the major motorway out of Salzburg down to the south (courtsey of google maps)

 I was told I could leave the car but that I couldn't climb the hill where the rocks came down. I had to put on a yellow fluorescent jacket and was told if anyone asked who I was to just say 'I'm with the geologist.' This mostly worked except for the ones who only spoke German; at that point I usually just said 'I speak English.'

Apparently the road has been covered with rocks to a height that would have been over our heads but the crew had been working since sometime during the night to clean it up (now about 1 pm)

 My austrian father hiked up the hill were the rocks had fallen from. It took him about a hour and a half climb up and about the same time down.

Austrian father all suited up to go hiking up the rocks
There he goes!

While he was up on the mountainside I took more pictures and got to look important because I was holding the maps of the area in my hand. (Short video below) The crew was hauling out some of the rocks but they were trying to create a trench next to the road to have a short term solution for possible landslides. A more long term solution will need to be created.

Machines at work

At a high elevation, can see some snow on top of the mountain

When he got back, my austrian father explained that the rocks are suppose to fall in a direction that parallels the road which didn't happen in this case. He says he will show me the map later.

Other half of Milka chocolate bar melted in the car :(
We hopped back into the car and headed back to our austrian house. When we got back we had to do some yardwork to prepare for the barbecue tomorrow. We cut some wood and then trimmed a hedge that was at least 50 feet (branches that were cut had to be swept up and removed) that lined a bike path (cars in the neighborhood use it to get up to the main road). After yard work we had some more lemon beer and then headed back to the house for some late dinner of pasta.