Category Archives: Travel

Double-take

Surprise free afternoons are great. Crossing things off a to-do list earlier than expected, I can wander free and roam wide, going wherever my feet or my stomach take me. I keep discovering new corners of my adopted city, wondering how another gem had escaped me until then. With no guide book in hand, I stumble on some of Vienna’s treasures completely by chance. I sniff out my adventures in a variety of ways. I sometimes hear some music or spot an interesting shopping bag or catch a whiff of something delicious or simply follow the crowd when I get off a tram somewhere completely new.

One such afternoon, I asked a lady who was getting on my tram where she got the unusual flowers she was carrying and realised that it was just around the corner. I promptly jumped off and made straight for the flower shop. What greeted me round the bend was a market I’d been to before but this time I approached it from another side.  Even though I was slightly disappointed it wasn’t a completely new place, I decided to take a second look. Ambling past stalls with fresh produce, I began to notice things I hadn’t the last time I was there. Not only did I find the unusual flower shop, I also observed the demographic around me start to change.

As I tried to find a non-creepy place to watch the life around me, I stumbled into Himmelblau and almost forgot my mission. I got distracted by all the gorgeous Indian-looking prints in the shop and gently picked up and replaced quite a few things before I realised there was a matching cafe through a secret doorway hiding in plain sight. How had I missed this little gem before? Unashamedly feminine and playful in its decor, this cafe was perfect for me sans husband. Munching on yummy salad and sipping fresh carrot juice, I looked out onto the street to witness the slices of society at the market that day.

Friday afternoons are seemingly when the yummy mummies with fashionable buggies meet working friends who aren’t accompanied by little people. Eventually, the partners of the largely female populace start to appear and many greeting kisses are exchanged. The waiters of the cafés scurry around to add chairs to growing tables and start taking several new orders while picking up cutlery that children fling in all directions. Retirees meet young professionals one can only assume are their children who they are clearly proud of. A book club convenes and serious chatter is punctuated with laughter. Many exclamations are made and there is a general air of relaxed friendship and familiarity. This afternoon changed my perception of a notoriously snobbish district of Vienna. I saw something different. I am happy I chose to take a second look.

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Reading in Public

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Does anyone know why we go to cafés to read? Reading is arguably a private affair; one that requires concentration and a fair amount of time. Unless you have a soap-box from which to megaphone your manifesto, reading in public is generally a quiet pastime and some might even say, an anti-social one. In Vienna, a city dedicated to the art of whiling away hours of your life drinking beverages, reading in public is no new trend. In Alt Wiener-style establishments, regulars are brought their coffee and their favourite newspaper bound between two wooden splints. Public private reading is not just accepted in these ornate coffee-houses, it is encouraged. Have a cuppa, sit a while and read in peace.

In many modern cafés you will find that newspapers have been replaced by magazines and tabloids. The truly on-trend café however, not only upgrades you from smut to classic literature but offers you the option of buying the reading material you see. Café Phil is one such trendy hipster locale. You are invited into their exposed concrete space to sit as long as you like, drink ‘homemade’ beverages (100% fairtrade, of course) and gaze at their rows of contemporary and classic tomes every time you look up from your Macbook. You can buy some of the motley artistically random collection of furniture and furnishings just in case you felt the need to reconstruct a perfect reading area. What you can’t recreate at home is the quiet hum of conversation of other ‘organic’ people and background music that isn’t distracting because you don’t know the artists.

This schizophrenic place jumps from café to bar to counselling centre to bookshop to restaurant to chair village to retro-ville in a matter of seconds. I love sipping my way through a good book but I’m not sure I could in such a self-conscious manner. Reading to me, is absorbing another’s words, engrossing yourself in a written world to make you completely unaware of your surroundings. When I entered this carefully curated area I felt an instant urge to resist the indie being stamped on me but I soon found myself thumbing through books that looked cool enough to read in public and even ended up researching retro-bikes on my way home. Reading in public can do that to you.

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A Train By Any Other Name

I recently had the privilege of going to the National Railway Museum in York. As you can probably tell, our family holiday featured several ‘family-friendly’ events. I had a great time reading unnecessary details about various engines and routes,  sharing a marvel much like you would when standing at the top of Niagara Falls. I felt no shame. I can geek out with family. That is the best thing about travelling with people who have changed my nappies, answered my silliest questions, taken me to the doctor for embarrassing problems and who have witnessed the best and worst moments of my life.

I entered the museum, counting the number of anoraks I could see. The number of little children almost equalled the number of older gentlemen. The kind I am certain stand in a huddle at the end of platforms, looking seriously at approaching trains and scribbling in their notebooks. This was exactly what I expected. A museum for enthusiasts and children, mostly boys. Having a healthy dose of skepticism is a good way to set yourself up for a museum or film. If you have low expectations, you can be pleasantly surprised when they are surpassed. If they are truly rubbish, then you don’t come away disappointed. Win win.

This museum far surpassed my expectations. I discovered a love for huge hunks of metal that cart us across land, through mountains, across rivers and under seas. It was incredible to see how much the railways have affected the development of Britain. It’s like the internet but with iron. My favourite part was the names given to different trains and I’m not talking Thomas the Tank Engine. It was remarkable that each train lived up to its name both in appearance and journey-history. If you’re a seasoned train-geek you might hear a railway story and say, “Ah, that sounds like something Valour would do.” A train by any other name just would not be the same.

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The North Sea

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I love the sea. Having spent most of my childhood breathing in salty air, it is strange to now live in a country with no coast. Our recent family reunion was therefore extra-special for being by the sea despite it being a distinctly British holiday. I know Britain does not normally conjure up images of sunny sands and cocktails with umbrellas but it just doesn’t need to. In all its overcast glory, the British coastline has the ability to make you feel relaxed and happy even if you are fully clothed.

On our first day in North Yorkshire, we ventured into Whitby, a beautiful, old, ship-building town that once waved goodbye to Captain James Cook long before Australia’s sunny shores were discovered. The drizzly, grey weather did not stop me enjoying the colourful quay, the serenity of the ancient harbour and the feeling of the wind whipping my hair around my face. Ok, maybe I didn’t enjoy the whipping but for nostalgia’s sake, I thought I did momentarily.

Standing by the lighthouse on one of the weathered entrance piers, I realised that I was looking out at the North Sea, a new sea for me. Just across the way were Denmark and Germany! I then remembered that the only times I catch a whiff of anything like my childhood now is when I pass a Nordsee restaurant. I then imagined the long drive the fish must have had to get to Vienna and instantly wanted to find a fish’n’chip shop to top up on my fresh fish quota. Nothing like the greasy spoons we find inland, Whitby’s offerings were clean, comfortable and with good service to boot. I think the smile must have come across the Atlantic but it was still a nice surprise. Perhaps the same can cross the North Sea and trek inland to me.

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Making Waves

My family had its first summer holiday somewhere new this year. I had my fair share of memorable summers when I was younger but I just realised that we, as a family, always spent our together-vacations with more family. Visiting my grandmother in school-breaks was always a highlight and I never found myself wanting more. The annual reunions featuring various aunts and uncles, loved/hated cousins and old friends of my parents will always be precious to me. Until I left my parents’ home for university, I never thought about having a say in our holiday plans.

As my social circle grew, my list of holiday destinations grew. Over time, I began to stray from my parents’ pattern of going somewhere with familiar people. I started adventuring and leaving familiarity behind. Being a student on a fairly limited budget however, these experiments were few and far between. Now that my immediate family are scattered across the globe, we look forward to weddings, business-trips and other official reasons to swing by homebase. This is great but it also means that we are hardly ever in one place at the same time.

This year, a seed that was placed many years ago, grew into a plan that brought us together from distant shores. We did reconvene briefly at headquarters but in an attempt to give my parents’ a break from hosting, we moved on to a new location. A house in the middle of the North Yorkshire Moors that accommodated all 14 of us with enough plumbing to go around. To have a decent bathroom/toilet to person ratio on the British Isles is no small matter. It was sheer luxury.

One of our adventure days out took us to Robin Hood’s Bay on the North East Coast of England. Apart from being a quaint old town with good fish’n’chips, it boasts the highest seawall in Britain. A walkway that runs along the top of this incredible fortress allows you to look at your own mortality. The waves that crash into this wall and slap back into new ones create such a fearsome sound and spray that you can’t help but clutch the handrail for comfort at first. Who needs a fast car when you have colliding waves? Free thrills.

Talking about making waves, how do you like my new blog theme? Leave a comment so I know what you like and what you would like to see more. I’m bracing myself for the waves crashing back!

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