It has been awhile since I last blogged about my studies and travels in Europe. Since arriving in Vienna, time has flown by so fast between going to class, traveling, meeting new people and learning German. When a friend of mine asked me a few weeks ago why I had not been blogging, I contemplated the question and realized that it was because Vienna was such a nice city to live in. While in Montreal and Brussels I had blogged about the things that did not seem to work, such as difficulty bicycling and the feeling of insecurity at night, I have been blown away by the ease and efficiency of life in Vienna. Bureaucratic procedures take just minutes, trains are fast, frequent and reliable and the people are open and friendly, contrary to what I had been told about the “grumpy Viennese”. Sure, the bicycle paths could be better. Sure, the U-Bahn could run later than 12:30 on weekdays. But all in all, Vienna is a good place to call home (I am not the first to notice this – 1.7 million people call Vienna home and several world-wide rankings have named Vienna the city with the best quality of life in the world). As I sit in a café in Salzburg, just hours after leaving my Vienna home-away-from-home and on the first day of my 4-week trip through Austria and Germany, I want to try to sum up my Vienna experience.
Getting around is a breeze
I think one of the most impressive things about Vienna is the ease of getting around. The U-Bahn can get you almost anywhere in the city in about 30 minutes and it runs 24 hours on the weekends. Although the U-Bahn is great, I mostly biked in Vienna, which really gave me the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the city. Every ride to school included the Ring Straße, with all its emblematic buildings. While bicycling could be better – many bicycle paths suddenly end or cross with the tram – it is much more pleasant to cycle in Vienna than Montreal and Brussels.
Vienna has a reputation for its coffee, cakes and food. It has lived up to those expectations – I will miss the dense, brown breads, the cheese and the coffee. My other favourites include spinach strudels and Hugo and Aperol spritzers (champagne or white wine, carbonated water and elder flower or Aperol syrup respectively). While it can be heavy and only mildly vegetarian-friendly, Austria food is delicious. On top of that, groceries are quite inexpensive and unlike in Canada, there is not a big difference between the prices of organic and non-organic foods (e.g. dairy).
A hop, quick and a jump from nature
With a quick train ride, one can escape the (already quite green) city of Vienna and be in the mountains for walking and hiking in just over an hour. I went hiking in Semmering a couple of weeks ago with a friend, biking to the train station, taking a comfortable one-hour ride to the mountains and arriving straight on the trail.
“So, which is the dodgy neighbourhood?” “Um, actually, yours!”
After Brussels and Paris, Vienna is incredibly safe. Walking at night, except on the Gürtel (the outer ring road) feels safe. When I asked a friend of mine where the dangerous parts of the city in fact were, she responded “Hm, actually, it is your neighbourhood”. As an outer neighbourhood, near the Gürtel, my neighbourhood had many sex shops and not much in terms of touristic attractions. Nonetheless, it feels safe even at night.
6 Months to learn German
I wrote in my first Vienna post about learning German. I took a course and began to practice in February when I arrived. At first, I would try to speak and make mistakes, have trouble finding the right words and overall feel like a small child. However, 6 months later I can hold a grown-up conversation in German, watch movies and listen to the radio. Nicht schlecht!
Just one thing I will not miss
Somehow while in most of Europe, Canada and the United States smoking has been banned from indoors and most public spaces, smoking is still very often allowed in the cafés, bars and restaurants of Vienna. While there are usually both a smoking and non-smoking section, one can rarely avoid smoke when one goes out in the city. Many young people smoke in Austria, and this is something I had trouble with being a fervent non-smoker. Also, there are often cigarette butts in otherwise very nice parks.