This week’s question for the Foreign Service Blog Round-Up is a good one: what do you like about your current post? We should all ask ourselves this question now and then! Even in a cushy post like Vienna. Especially in February.
I’ve mentioned before that I am not here for the “typical” reasons. I am not a classical music lover, an opera fan, or even that crazy about pastries. Or skiing, or snow, or even cold weather, when you get right down to it. But there are some things I like very much about Vienna.
My son’s school.
It’s not the school that “everyone” uses. In fact, many Embassy people have never heard of it. I found it myself, through Googling and networking with other bloggers. It’s basically a British school, and at least half the students are Austrian. My son is the only full-citizen American in the high school. But he loves it! And they have been so incredibly practical and down-to-earth about dealing with his ADHD. This was our experience at the last British school he attended as well. A high academic level combined with good learning support services and a great willingness to deal with each kid as an individual—no matter how quirky.
The boy who was literally flunking out of American public high school last year is now passing all his classes. If I hated everything else about Vienna I would still consider it to be a successful posting just because of this school.
Possibly the best public transportation in the world.
The transit system here is just amazing. With the network of underground and above-ground trains, trams, and buses, you can get from anywhere to anywhere quickly and efficiently. You don’t actually need a car at all at this post—although it is handy for hauling groceries or Ikea furniture.
We all have annual transit passes that we don’t ever have to pull out of our wallets unless a transit cop asks to see them. My husband and son’s passes were paid by the Embassy because they are cheaper than paying drivers or for school buses, respectively. So, all three of us are going anywhere we like at any time for the cost of my pass alone: about $600 for a full year. We spend almost nothing on gas, taking the car out maybe once or twice per week. We are spoiled, that’s for sure.
The transit system has a lot of other quality-of-life benefits, such as cleaner air, faster commutes, and more independence for the elderly.
There are no public school buses clogging up traffic. All the kids just ride the transit instead. My teenage son is able to get all over the city by myself, which is a great step toward independence that is postponed for too long for most suburban American kids (in my humble opinion).
Any American who doesn’t think the government shouldn’t invest in public transportation needs to come live here for a while. It will change their mind!
The Viennese are hugely into walking, hiking, biking—anything you can do on a trail. So are we. Just about every weekend we go hiking in the Wienerwald, the big forest surrounding the city. The public transit makes this even easier–you can always just keep walking until you find a bus stop and come home.
I incorporate a lot of walking into my weekday routine as well. Just a few weeks ago I decided to walk to a friend’s house for a meeting and ended up in the middle of a vineyard! (I took my husband back for a hike in the same area that weekend.)
I have never felt anything but perfectly safe on these trails, and with Google Maps on my phone, I don’t worry about getting lost, either. It’s pretty awesome—and a real sanity-saver on Sundays when the city basically shuts down (not on my Like list!)
OK, maybe not perfectly clean. But it is amazing how often can you find a decent bathroom around here, with toilet paper, even. As a woman of a certain age, I greatly appreciate this. The underground stations all have bathrooms you can use for 50 cents, and they are found in public parks as well.
When we travel, all the gas stations, rest stops, and truck stops have decent bathrooms. Frequently, they have paid attendants to keep them clean. This is a great system. I’m happy to pay for a clean bathroom when I need one. I don’t know why we don’t do it in the States. Seems to me it would employ a lot of low-skilled people and provide a valuable service. As far as I am concerned, decent public bathrooms are a mark of civilization!
Restaurant food in Vienna is just OK. You rarely get a bad meal, but you rarely get a truly great meal, either. The baked goods are excellent, but as for main dishes, the Viennese like bland, heavy, salty dishes, for the most part, and they ain’t cheap. There are a few good ethnic restaurants, but really, you could find more Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, and Mexican food in any one DC suburb (or possibly one strip mall) than you could find in the entire country of Austria.
Street food, on the other hand, is a great value here. There are small coffee shops and kiosks everywhere, especially downtown.You can get a tasty bratwurst, hot dog, slice of pizza, or kebab at any major transit station. My favorite are the kasekraner, or cheese-filled sausages. They are a heart attack wrapped in a napkin, but sooooooo good.
Chinese food is also big, with “happy noodle” stands everywhere. There is even a sushi stand at the U-bahn station near my house!
All these stands, whatever the cuisine, are quite clean and the food is hot and fresh. They are not a tourist thing at all. You see people walking around all the time while eating their lunch, and food is even permitted on the public transit, though you are expected to be considerate about it.