Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ten things I learned in Vienna...

Lately, I've been writing these list of ten things I've learned whenever I go somewhere.  Our trip to Vienna was my second, but it had been many years since my list visit.  I remembered some things about it, but in other ways it was a total reorientation to a great city.  So here are ten new things I learned while we were in Vienna.

1.  If you visit a cafe in Vienna, the waiter will bring a small glass of water.  You can stay as long as the glass has water in it.

2.  Vienna's metro system is very easy to figure out and convenient.  It's economical, too.  Only 2,20 euros a trip if you pay full price.

3.  Beware of the guys in the period costumes.  You'll find them around all of the major tourist attractions.  They will try to get you to go to a concert.  It may be fun or it may suck.  ;-)

4.  You can take a train to Bratislava or a hydrofoil.  I recommend making time to see Bratislava.  It's another world capital very closeby, yet completely different.

5.  Music is everywhere in Vienna, especially classical.  But karaoke is available too, and it's a lot of fun!

Music is even in the gardens...

6.  The graffiti is fascinating.  So are the signs.

7.  There's a statue dedicated to the plague in Vienna.

8.  Vienna has an awesome airport!

9.  If you get tired of Austrian food, the Italian food is worth investigating.  I noticed a lot of Italians in Vienna, so you're sure to find an authentic restaurant.  Here's one we liked.

10.  If you walk through the Lippizaner stables at around 11:00, you might catch a glimpse of them.

We loved Vienna.  I hope we can go back sooner than 18 years from now!         

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Hello Fresh update...

Some folks in the local Facebook group have asked me about Hello Fresh.  I was in Vienna when I got the request for the update and didn't have my laptop with me.  Now that I'm home again, I'm ready to dish.  I don't work for Hello Fresh and don't care one way or another if anyone else decides to subscribe to this service.  These are just my honest and unbiased opinions based on our experiences so far.

Bill and I subscribed to Hello Fresh in late January.  I did it on a whim because it looked like an interesting concept.  Hello Fresh is a worldwide company offered in a number of countries, including the US and the UK.  Hello Fresh in Germany is based in Berlin.  They offer meal boxes every week.  You can get boxes with as few as three meals for two people or as many as five meals for four people.  Hello Fresh sends most everything you'd need for their recipes as well as the recipes themselves.  We've been using this service for about three months.  Here are my observations so far.

* The recipes are written in German.  If you don't know German, you will have to translate them.  We have successfully used the Google Translate app.  My husband has also taken the recipes to work with him and printed them out after using an online translator.  More recently, he's finding that he doesn't need to translate.  He's picking up some language skills.  The Web site is also, of course, in German.  I recommend accessing it via Google Chrome if you aren't a German speaker; that browser will automatically translate for you.

* The recipes are German.  By that, I mean they will likely suit German tastes.  You get a lot of lean beef and chicken recipes (if you use the classic box) with pepper cream sauces.  Last week, we had what was supposed to be a Mexican inspired chicken salad.  It was pretty good, though perhaps maybe a little bland for some Americans.  Also, it was topped with Feta cheese, which is not Mexican!  I have found the recipes to be hit and miss.  Some we've loved and some we haven't liked as much, though all have been edible.  Bill is learning some new cooking techniques, though, so that's a good thing.

* You may find yourself trying stuff you've never had before.  To be honest, that's one reason why I still subscribe.  There are many fruits and vegetables I've never tried and honestly should embrace.  Hello Fresh lets us try them in small quantities.  Plus, every week you get one vegetarian meal, which I like because left to my own devices, I eat too much meat.

* Their Web site is glitchy.  When I first subscribed, I got a message from their system that my payment failed.  So I tried again.  I got the same message.  I think after four times, I finally got a message that the subscription worked.  Unfortunately, the previous times I tried to subscribe had actually gone through.  I ended up with four subscriptions!  To Hello Fresh's credit, they did refund the other orders and we ended up with some free food.  But since there are only two of us in our household, it was a bit of a pain.  I didn't enjoy dealing with their customer service at first, either, because I think we had a bit of a cultural clash as to what Americans consider good service and what Germans do.  But we did get the billing issue straightened out.

* If you want to pause a week and you get a classic box and a fruit box (like we do), you should ask customer service to do it for you.  Don't try to do it on their Web site.  For some reason, when I tried to pause a week myself, I only paused the fruit box.  Frankly, I would have liked to have gotten the fruit box.  It was the classic box we didn't want.  For some reason, their site isn't set up to make this happen.  Fortunately, their customer service folks are good about pausing if you ask them early enough.  They usually post the following week's menu on Sundays.  I check it and decide if I want it. If I don't, I immediately send an email.  If you wait too long, they won't be able to stop the order.  * ETA: They have since improved their Web site and now I can easily pause the shipments myself.  That makes using Hello Fresh a lot easier.

* There is no flexibility.  If you like two of the three meals in the classic box, you can't ask them to replace the one you don't like with something else.  Personally, I think it would be great if they let the people who get three meals a week to choose the three they want from the five available.  I don't like mushrooms and prefer not to have to handle (or pay for) them.  But I can't ask them to leave mushrooms out of the box, so I pause the weeks the recipes have mushrooms in them.

* The food is very high quality.  We have only had one or two times when fruit was damaged.  They pack them very well, though.  The bananas are usually wrapped.  Last week, we got a starfruit that was wrapped securely in plastic.  Meats and dairy products are packed with cool packs and wrapped in wool.  Other items are what I'd call "Whole Foods" quality.

* Meat servings tend to be small, but there's always been enough food for Bill and me.  Others might not agree.  Again, I need to eat less meat, so this is a plus for me.  We often end up with leftovers and sometimes even have leftover ingredients.

*  Hello Fresh delivers via UPS.  I usually get my orders before noon on Wednesdays.  If you live on an installation, I don't know if Hello Fresh would work for you.

* You can return some of the packaging to Hello Fresh.  Save one of your boxes and put as many wool and cold packs in it as you can.  After five deliveries, you can send your box back to Hello Fresh and they will recycle for you.  You print a label from their site and take the box to drop off.  It doesn't cost extra.

* You get "gifts".  After a certain number of boxes, you get "free gifts".  So far, I've gotten a Hello Fresh canvas tote, which comes in handy at the Aldi.  They also send coupons, which may or may not be useful to you.  And you can get free boxes for your friends, too.

I don't know how long we'll keep using this service.  Bill enjoys the boxes and I particularly enjoy the fruit boxes, which sometimes include a surprise like coconut or mango.  One reason Bill likes these boxes is because he does a lot of the cooking and it's very convenient to have the food shopped for us and delivered directly to our home.  It saves him time.  I do think this company's customer service could be improved in many ways, but overall it's been a fairly positive experience.  I suspect I'll be updating again if and when I decide to cancel.  ;-)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Vienna, Austria Part 8... coming home!

Unfortunately, our last night in Vienna was a bit of a let down.  Bill picked up a cough of some sort while he was in Africa and he woke me up in the middle of the night.  I had indigestion, no doubt from all the good food and beer we enjoyed on Sunday.  I managed to grab a little more sleep, but was still kind of crabby in the morning as we packed up to get to the airport.

Bill ordered a cab online.  He says this is a good thing to do, especially if you are coming in to Vienna.  If you don't pre-book a cab, you end up paying more.  Our trip to Vienna from the airport was over 40 euros, but coming back it was only 32 euros.  Bill rounded up to 40 because he's a generous guy.  The cab was prompt and arrived at 6:30am, getting us on our way despite the heavy Vienna traffic.

We tried to pre-book my bag but for some reason weren't able to, so once again we paid 30 euros to check my luggage.  Paying to check luggage is one of my many pet peeves, especially since it's a rip off.

I must say, Vienna has a lovely airport with lots of nice amenities.  One thing I loved was the free wi-fi.  There are very nice stores in the airport as well as a beautiful food court/gourmet market.  If we'd had more time, I could have had a good time shopping for goodies.  Instead, we had a nice and huge breakfast that I couldn't finish.  More eggs, sausage, and bacon.  My eyes were way bigger than my stomach, though Bill was able to finish his with ease.

Really good shopping!

One thing the Vienna airport doesn't have in abundance is electric outlets.  They haven't followed the trend of other airports that have installed outlets for people who need to charge their electronics.  I managed to find an outlet in the food court area, though the wi-fi didn't work there.  I guess that's to keep people from camping out there all day.

The flight back to Stuttgart was uneventful, yet annoying.  The guy in the seat in front of me insisted on reclining for a one hour flight.  The guy across the aisle from me kept farting or something... it wasn't nice.  Fortunately, the flight was quick and turbulence free and we were soon on our way home... until we got on A8, which closely resembled a parking lot.  I mean it.  The cars were barely moving.  It took forever to get to the exit to A81.  I was feeling queasy from the flight and the smell of diesel fumes.

We got home at about noon and I immediately slipped into my nightie because I knew I wasn't going anywhere.  Bill went to the Hunde Hotel Haase to get the dogs.  When he got home, he made this for dinner...

One of our Hello Fresh meals...  Zucchini stuffed with basmati rice, zucchini, and gouda cheese.  The base is rice, cherry tomatoes, and peppers.

This was healthy, tasted good, and looked pretty.  

It's good to be home again, though I'm already planning our next trip.  The champagne bucket says we're going to the Canary Islands.  I'm not sure when yet-- maybe in June.  Should be a lot of fun!

Vienna, Austria Part 7... A boat to Bratislava

When we mentioned wanting to go to Bratislava, Slovakia, Herbert recommended that we try the hydrofoil boat, which takes people on the Danube to the capital of the Slovak Republic.  I had been to Bratislava once before, but it was by train on the way to Zilina, a city in the north near the Czech border.  I didn't see much of the city itself and besides, that was back in 1997.  I did remember the train trip was relatively short.  Riding in the hydrofoil one way was 35 euros a person and could be paid for by credit card.  The trip takes about 75 minutes.  Bratislava, like much of Eastern Europe, is very economical.

Since we found the dock on Saturday, Bill and I decided to take the hydrofoil to Bratislava and perhaps the train back to Vienna.  We arrived at the pier bright and early and booked tickets on the 8:30 departure.  We took advantage of the snacks being offered onboard.  I had a chocolate muffin, orange juice and coffee.  Bill had a croissant and coffee.  The boat ride was pleasant enough.  We went on the sundeck, upon which some people ride all the way.  It was very windy up there and by the time we got back downstairs, another couple had taken our seats.  Since the boat wasn't full, we took one of the "reserved" seats up front.  No one said anything to us.

The hydrofoil...

View from the back...

Snacks!  The WC was near here too.

A fishing hut.  Lots of these along the Danube.  Some were pretty fancy.

Bill enjoys the sundeck with all its wind!  For the first time in decades, his hair is long enough to blow in the wind.

We snuck into the reserved seating area.

Ruins on the way east.

Hainburg, Austria

On the way to Bratislava.

Yet another Armenian Genocide sign.

It's definitely not Vienna!

I got the sense that there's great art in Slovakia.  Wish I'd been there longer to see more of it.

In the old town.

A very "American" restaurant.  I think all these places were owned by the same entity.

We did stop here for beer and a potty break.  The music was great!

Bill poses by a statue.


Cops busting someone.

A pleasant park.

There was a line of trees obviously planted for certain European presidents.  I took a picture of the one for Armenia.


Church music played as we passed this old building.

A pile of pickles.  As we were headed into the old town, a guy was pushing a cart full of restaurant supplies.  He rounded a corner and lost a jar of pickles.  Bill and another American helped him clean up the mess and the pickles were all that were left.

A cool dial showing how far away many of the world's cities are from Bratislava.

When it came time for lunch, we headed back toward the old town.  I wanted to avoid the obvious tourist traps and fortunately succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.  We found a traditional Slovak restaurant in an old keller.  The music was awesome Hungarian and the food was delightful.  So was the service.

This place is awesome!

We sat in a little alcove under a stained glass window.

A little Bernard beer from the Czech Republic...

I started with smoked trout with apples and horseradish.  Bill had the Armenian salad, which was carrots with mayonnaise and lots of garlic.  Both were excellent!

Great starters!

Pork chop in potato dough and topped with cheese.  The salad had a delicious dressing that tasted a bit like t'zatsiki.  Bill had a pork and beef dish with very pungent peppers.

A lovely Slovak white wine.  It reminded me of Riesling.

And we split Hungarian cake.  It was topped with chocolate sauce and reminded me a little of Boston Creme Pie.

Only girls on staff!

This was an ad for plastic surgery, I think.  I photographed it because it looked like they were offering gender reassignment.

Time for church to let out.

After lunch, we happened upon a small art museum that was advertising free entry.  We availed ourselves of the opportunity and checked out more art!

A beery Sunday...

By the time we were done walking around Bratislava, we decided not to bother with the train.  We went back to the dock.  On the way there, we ran into a couple of Mormon missionaries.  I immediately spotted them and they caught me looking.  One of them spoke in flawless Slovak, which makes me think he must be a local.  They wanted to talk to us, but we were quick to decline!  Sorry guys.  Bill has already done the Mormon thing and it just doesn't suit us.

It turned out all the seats on the main deck of the hydrofoil were sold, but there was still room in the Captain's Lounge.  For ten euros extra (80 euros for two), you can ride in the small lounge behind the bridge.  I figured at least no one would be stealing our seats if we sat up there.  It turned out three Slovak couples were up there, too.  One male half turned out to be quite the comedian.  He asked the captain where the champagne was.  The captain was not amused and directed him to the snack bar.  He came back with a small bottle of prosecco.  I noticed the Slovak language sounded a bit like Russian and understood snippets of it, even though I never studied Russian.  In Armenia, Russian was used a lot and I picked up a little.

We waited in a small bar at the dock.  Beer was cheap and service was cheery...

We tried their schnapps/digestives, too... 

In the Captain's Lounge on the hydrofoil.  One of the guys running the boat looked like he wasn't a day over 19.  It was kind of cute.

Obligatory shot of Bill in the hokey Scottish pub.

Back at the dock.

I couldn't help but wonder how many people tried to escape to Austria via the Danube.

Back in Vienna.

We enjoyed our very brief trip to Bratislava.  I want to go back and see more of the city and perhaps escape to the country.  It was a nice change from the opulence of Vienna... very economical and definitely different.  Bratislava is well worth a visit and next time we'll stay longer.