30 January 2010

Zuckerbacker Ball

Last night I went to a ball! The Zuckerbacker Ball. Zuckerbacker means something along the lines of sugar-baker, so this ball is put on by the confectioners and bakers of the city.

When I came in I was given a wee cake. Only the girls got cakes though. After taking a photo so as not to forget it, I ate it. It was delicious - like chocolate and oranges.

On the way into the ballroom you walk past the Tombola, which is like a raffle. These are all the prizes that you can win. It is not quite like a raffle though, because every ticket wins something.

The prizes ranged from small candy treats to gift bags and cakes to the really fancy cakes. Here is one of the big prizes below:

The ballroom was huge and so full of people. Some of the dresses were amazing. And I loved the decorations. You can see the stage below and the giant cakes hanging from the ceiling. There was a small orchestra to play dance music and in between sets were more modern songs sung by another band. Not quite modern though - they sang Achy Breaky Heart.

The ball was opened by dubutantes and this took far longer than I expected. The started off by walking out, all in time, and then had to stand and listen to someone talk, and then crouch down while important people walked through. Then again as all their parents walked through. And then they had to stand and wait while prizes or acknowledgements of some sort were given out to the important people who organised the event (at least that's what I assume it was, but it was of course all in German). Finally they did their opening dance (surprisingly short) and the ball was open.

In the photo below you can see the debutantes lined up and all the decorations hanging from the ceiling. There are nets full of balloons, these are called Gluck-balloons (luck-balloons) and throughout the night there were balloon drops. Some had tokens inside them for prizes. They also eventually lowered the strings of balloons but these ones had no prizes, that was just for the fun of it.

A part of the ball was a cake competition, and some of the entries you would not believe were cakes at all if you didn't already know it. I didn't take photos of them all because there were just so many and they were all so impressive. This one below was quite good though and won a prize:

And this next one was my favourite and also won a prize. Unfortunately it fell down before the end of the night (it is actually supposed to be all wonky like that though). And clearly the them was clowns.

The cakes below are just one table of many. These were given out as prizes in the Tombola and also if you paid a bit extra for your ticket you got to take one home regardless.

There was a small kitchen set up where they were making treats to eat. There were heart shaped biscuits with your name written on them as prizes for every ticket that ended with a 5 (not mine unfortunately). They were also giving away some sort of eclair filled with cream. In the middle this photo you can sort of see the cakes in the middle being decorated. It is amazing to see how quickly they can turn a cake into a masterpiece. And right at the back you can see the bread rolls being made.

The bread was delicious - it was so warm, and had some sort of orange or lemon glaze over it. It was quite hard to get some though, everybody waits for the next batch to be ready and then suddenly there is a frenzy of bread-grabbing (although compared to the gluck-balloons it was very tame).

Unfortunately I mostly stopped taking photos after this because I was tired of carrying my bag around. The dancing was amazing, but a photo wouldn't have done it justice anyway. To see them whirl around, and so many at once yet they don't seem to bang into each other. Balls here are real balls, and very worth going to. There is not just a single waltz, it is waltz all night long. Some of the dancers are so good, especially a lot of the older couples. They look so light on their feet. I really wish I could do it.

The first balloons fell before midnight, and I managed to get some. There was a lot of pushing and jumping and popping of balloons, but after catching one I noticed some on the ground so I grabbed a couple and made my way out of the crowd. Two had prizes! This was my prize:

Isn't it nice? It is a biscuit of some sort, and the expiry date says December 2010 so maybe I will refrain from eating it for now and keep it on my wall? Also my raffle prize, which was not a big fancy cake unfortunately, just a small hamper, but still very nice:

And then there was the midnight quadrille - once again a photo would have shown nothing at all.

You line up on the dance floor, and a conductor on the stage explains what to do (in German of course). You begin with one part at a time slowly, and then to music. And then the next bit. And then you sort of put them together. And then it begins to get faster and faster and faster. It is all stepping forward and bowing/curtseying to the person facing you, then acrossways and sideways and in between all being swung around by your partner or swapping places with the person opposite. It is very confusing, like being tongue-tied with your feet. And so much fun. And it ends with thing where you race down the line beneath everybody's arched hands, then at the end you continue the tunnel, and eventually it is your turn again, and it just goes in a huge exhausting circle. It is like what you see in movies and read about in books that are set about a hundred years ago or so. Only far more manic.

After the midnight quadrille the long night really begins to catch up on you. The crowd thinned a lot. There were two more gluck-balloon drops. I missed one but tried to join the third - it was such a brawl! There were girls up on their partners shoulders, a lot of pushing and it was impossible to get anything. Fun though, only you had to be carefull not to fall or step on anybody. Then there were the big balloons that were released, which had no prizes but were huge so I got some anyway. And lastly there were some last prizes dangling that were lowered but they were even more impossible to reach than the balloons. It made for a good atmosphere though and at least I got prizes from the first balloons. By the end of the night the dance floor was covered in pieces of balloon.

So lastly here is me, at the end of the night before going home (with all my plunder):

I managed to find a dress for only 20 euro! That's like 40 bucks. Going to a ball is still quite expensive though, and this was one of the more informal, less expensive ones. But I would love to go to another. To think that I won't be here to do this again next year, it is so disappointing. I really hope that I manage to come back eventually.

25 January 2010

Austrian Hospitality

This weekend was very long, I am trying to fit as much into my time here as possible. And the Austrian people that I am meeting are so nice. There is another PhD working here on barnacles who is Viennese and she has been playing the host. So far she has introduced me to some Austrian food like palachinken which is basically pancakes, taken us out places such as the Schonbrunn palace and begun to hand out invites to family functions.

So yesterday we went ice-skating. There is a small lake beside her parent's house that freezes solid. It seems amazing to me that this happens all on it's own while in New Zealand we have to make an ice-rink. First we went to her parents house where I was given some very nice home-cooked Austrian food (of course in Austria all food is Austrian but still, you know what I mean). I was lent some ice-skates and also ski-gear because hopefully we are all going to go skiing.

Ice-skating out-of-doors is very different to an indoor ice-rink. It was first of all full of kids (and adults too) playing ice-hockey. There was snow on the ice and every now and then somebody would skate around with a shovel pushing it all out of the way. Instead of stands to sit on and get your skates on you stand and lean on a friend or just sit in the snow. All of the kids wear these big puffy snow suits. But you can't even throw the snow because it is to powdery. And you have to be careful when going fast because the ice is a bit bumpy. And I reckon it's definately colder too.

So after a couple of hours ice-skating we went to the house of a family friend to return some borrowed gear and we were given tea and cake, and had a look at their preparations for Fasching. Fasching is like what we might call Carnival or Mardi Gras. It goes for all the winter months, and all the balls that are on are sort of a part of it, and there are a lot of parties and things. All of the markets on before Christmas are a part of it. And it ends with a party, so I have been invited to one.

Anyway, basically the people here seem to be really nice, and keen to show a person around.

23 January 2010

Staatsoper and Schonbrunn

On Wednesday I went to the Staatsoper again, this time to see opera and not ballet. It was called Le Nozze di Figaro, which means the marriage of Figaro. It was composed by Mozart and is an opera buffa, which is comic opera.

The story is basically of the marriage day of a servant, Figaro, whose lord wants to seduce his wife-to-be. It is sort of like the comedies by shakespeare in which a group of characters are introduced, usually in pairs, and they are all plotting against each other, and in the end all the plots are foiled and everybody ends up happy.

In this case the womanising count learns his lesson and decides that he loves his own wife after all, the other people helping him to plot against Figaro turn out to be Figaro's long lost parents and decide to marry each other, Figaro gets to marry his wife and the womanising page-boy also gets to be with the serving girl that he has been after.

The staatsoper building in the photo above was the first building to be built on what is called the Ringstrasse and it has it's name because the state helps to fund the productions, so that the tickets can be cheap enough for the public. When it was built it was criticised that it was not big enough and first one of the architects committed suicide, then the other died of a heart-attack. Some of the inside was burnt down during one of the wars, but they rebuilt it. All the really nice stuff like the front and the foyer with its stone staircases and frescoes survived.

Today I went to Schonbrunn, which was the summer palace of the Hapsburgs. Every building associated with Schonbrunn is painted in these yellow colours, so it is really easy to know what you are looking at. It has about 1500 rooms! Only about 40 of them are open for the tour.

This is the side of the building (the main building that is) and you can see that on the top there is a row of statues, plus a large statue in the middle (the close-up is the photo below). These statues continue around the whole building and you also see similar statues on top of all the old buildings in the city.

Inside the palace there was a huge variety of decor. Some of it was quite simple and plain and some ridiculously sumptuous. You were not allowed to take photos, but I did anyway. Of course most of them are not great as I had to do it quickly and sneakily. This was one of the rooms that I liked the best, the ball room. The ceilings are covered in frescoes and the walls are white and gold.

Here is a close up of a part of the wall:

I also liked this room in the following picture. It is full of drawings which were actually done by members of the imperial family. It was all blue and white.

And here is another, this one was one of the chinese salons. We were given audio guides to tell us what to look at and all about the history which was nice, but sometimes made it a bit slow.

After going through the palace you walk up behind it to the Gloriette, which is at the top of the hill above the gardens. It is mostly just a monument. On the way there is a large fountain featuring Neptune, which in the winter is not turned on but is till very nice:

Here is the Gloriette. There is usually a pond in the large empty space in front of it, but once again - it is winter.

Here is one of the four identical statues that stand at each corner:

From the Gloriette you get a very nice view of Schonbrunn in front of the city:

This is the statue at the centre of the back of the Palace. The eagle that you see everywhere is a part of the Vienna coat-of-arms. The double-headed eagle is the do with the Hapsburgs was taken from the Holy Roman Empire.

And to end, here are some cows:

- Strawberry Cow (for strawberry milk of course).

-Beer Cow

-And a sea-cow.

21 January 2010

A Breakfast Disaster

This morning I had a microwave accident.

I was making porridge for breakfast, in the microwave because it seems quicker and I am lazy. I have been doing this for awhile now, in general I just put all bowls and plates in the microwave and have never had any trouble. But it turns out you should check that your bowl is microwave safe.

So I took my porridge out of the microwave and added sugar and milk.

Then the bowl exploded!

I really was not expecting that. Who would have thought that the bowl would explode? It didn't just break, there was definately some force to it.

So now I had a big mess, glass everywhere and no breakfast. Luckily over the weekend I found vegemite so I had vegemite on toast instead. And I think I will go back to cooking porridge on the stove.

17 January 2010

Lolly Cake in Austria

So last night it was my house-mates birthday party, and I make lolly-cake. See, lolly-cake is actually unique to NZ and people in this hemisphere think it sounds really strange. The problem with trying to make lolly-cake here is that the ingredients are also pretty unique to NZ. So instead of malt biscuits I used caramelised biscuits (they are this really good type of biscuit you get here), and instead of fruit-puffs I used marshmallows. The biscuits were okay but I thought the marshmallows were nowhere near so good as fruit-puffs. People were wary of trying it at first but then everybody loved it. It was all gone far to soon. They say I will have to make more.

Since being away I have actually met no other Kiwi's, and surprisingly no Aussies either. Most people here have a lot of trouble understanding me but there are a couple that think it's a nice accent. Most people don't notice the Southland accent here, but a couple can tell the difference. And every conversation eventually ends up at Lord of the Rings. And rugby. But at least they all liked the lolly-cake. And you have to admit, they are right in saying that it's really strange looking. I just never really thought about it before.

16 January 2010

Naschmarkt and Shopping

Today I went to the Naschmarkt, which is a food market, and the largest in Vienna. It stretches in mostly a single line down the river Wien. There was all sorts of food, from meat and vegetables to what in NZ I guess we would call deli-food and pick-n-mix.

It was really crowded, but apparently it is not so bad during the week. I was talked into buying some sweet almonds. They are like scorched almonds so I had to buy them, they are coated with something, I don't know what, perhaps some sort of white-chocolate, or perhaps just some sort of sugary mixture. They are really good.

The reason I went today despite the crowds (other than the fact that I have to work all week) is because on Saturday there is a flohmarkt (flea-market). It is the same as garage sales in NZ, only really big. Some really interestings stuff. Loads of fur coats and hats (everybody wears them here, it is so cold). I didn't buy one though - where would I wear it after I left here? Some of it was still quite expensive.

So after the market I went shopping (yay!). I found the main shopping street, Mariahilferstrasse, and it is a stop on the underground train that I take, so how great is that? It is a very long street so I didn't go very far down. But I didn't have to, I needed a good coat you see. There is a shop here called H&M, it is nice but inexpensive - sort of like Glasson's but way better. And I got a great coat, it is navy and woollen, and it was half price, only 40 euro (about 80 bucks). So I brought some other stuff too because it was all on sale, and I will try not to go shopping again for awhile. Then I went and brought a good warm jacket (because you do need both a coat and a jacket you know) which was also half price and only 40 euro, so really I only spent as much as I would have on a full price coat. And it will be good for when (fingers-crossed) I go skiing.

So today was a sort of expensive day, and it was very cold as always, and it was both a lucky day and an unlucky day. It was lucky because I was heading further up Mariahilferstrasse after my shopping, but I decided I couldn't be bothered and turned around. And as I went back down the street a saw a lady holding my purse! I had dropped it and not even noticed! Imagine how screwed I would have been if I hadn't turned back around. So that was very lucky.

What was unlucky is that I tried to buy my shopping with my Irish debit-card but it didn't work. So that was ok, I used my credit card instead. But when I got home I checked my bank account and both cards have been charged! So that sucks. I will have to print out the statements and take them in with the receipt so that I can get my money back. To pay twice would be like nothing had been on sale! At least now I know though to not bother trying to use my Irish card, because it will not work but still be charged.

So that was my day, and a very long day it was too. This week I hope to go ice-skating, and to an opera. Perhaps soon I will start travelling to different places. I would like to start going to the museums too because there are about a thousand of them here. So perhaps I will have more interesting photos soon.

12 January 2010

Viennese Culture

Today I went to the ballet. Here in Vienna there are operas, ballets and musicals on every single night! I went to the Staatsoper (State Opera) with my housemates to see the ballet adaption of a russian novel, Anna Karinina, by Tolstoy.

The ballet was a lot simpler than the novel, which is good because russian novels are incredibly long-winded. It was set to music by Tchikovsky. I think for me at least the second act must have been better than the first, because it seemed that it had barely begun when it was suddenly over. So surely I must have just been enjoying it more because it went for the same length of time.

I am hoping to go see something once a week, and that way I will make the most of my four months here and get some culture while I have the chance. There is some really good stuff coming up. And it is so cheap! It was only 3 euro, which is 6 bucks. That's for standing seats in the gallery but we could still see really well. I tried to take a few pictures but it didn't work very well. Other than the final bow the picture above is the only one that worked, and only because they were holding a pose. But this scene was a masquerade and had the most interesting costumes so it's better than nothing.

Perhaps next week I will try an opera.

10 January 2010


Today I visited Zentralfriedhof, the Central Cemetery. This is the largest and most famous cemetery in Vienna. It has more than two and a half million corpses, which is larger than the population here, and it is bigger than the Innere Stadt, the City Centre.

It is full of beautiful statues and in my opinion now is definately the time to visit, the snow seems very fitting. Being so large I of course did not see much at all. I went in the main gate and walked straight ahead.

I stopped to take photos of some of the more impressive statues, and the ones that just caught my eye in general.

Before you know it, you have found the section in which all of the famous composers have been buried. It is impossible to miss (luckily). The statue below is a monument to Mozart, though he was not actually buried here. He was buried in another cemetery, and nobody quite knows where. This is thought to be quite scandalous but really, he died just before giving people huge lavish funerals began here in Austria, so like everybody else he was just put in the ground without any big fuss. Now they have a rough idea of where he was probably buried, but back then apparently they cleared the bones out of the graves every few years to make space. So he probably is not still there anyway.

Next is the grave of Beethoven. He was also not originally buried here, but he was dug up about 60 years after death and re-interred in this cemetery (the other was shut down).

Alongside Beethoven lies Schubert, he was also re-buried here after being moved from the cemetery that shut down. They reckon he might have died of syphilus.

Johann Ritter von Herbeck, another Austrian musician. This one I had not heard of before.

Next to von Herbeck is Brahms, who I had heard of but I am not sure that I know any of his music. And I don't know why his monument features a book when he was a composer. Also he apparently hated cats.

This monument was just beside the composers and I thought it was quite impressive. It belongs to Carl Ritter von Ghega who built a famous railway.

This next statue is the monument of Johann Strauss, yet another composer. I am right now watching on tv the Viennesse Orchestra's New Years Concert and they are currently playing a piece by Strauss. Strauss is famous for composing waltzes.

Now I have left the composer's section and I am not sure who these graves and monuments belong to.

This big canopied one belonged to one of the Mayors (Burgermeister) of Vienna.

This church is in the centre of the city and is named after another mayor.

Inside it is very nice but it was very quiet. You can go underneath, but it is not that interesting down there.

It has a very nice domed ceiling.

Here is another very nice statue.

This statue was big and sort of creepy. It did not seem to have a face.

And a funky cross.

I'm not sure what this sign is all about. This is in the U-bahn station (the subway station).