Thursday, November 24, 2011

weather, diminishing daylight and Viennese idiosyncrasies

Dear readers, 

After speaking with a friend via Google voice the other day, there are some day to day realities of life here I'd like to share.  First off, the weather.  As Vienna is located roughly on the same latitude as Montreal, it is cold here.  Yesterday, for example, we received our first light dusting of snow in the city.  Walking home from school today, I noticed snow-covered trees on the hills surrounding our house.  It's cold enough that already I bundle up daily in a scarf, gloves, and hat for the walk to work.  In many ways the weather here reminds me of London.  I did a semester abroad there back in 1997.  London has a reputation as a foggy, rainy metropolis.  
It did rain often there although it was more of a light misting rather than a torrential downpour.
Vienna is like London not so much for the rain as for the fog.  There have been many mornings when I've stepped outside to see the surrounding hills completed blanketed by a deep, thick fog.  Details of the church steeple just a block away are obscured by this fog.  Of course, fog gives a city this gloomy, downcast feel.  
Besides the fog, another recent development is our loss of daylight.  I'm not sure how much daylight friends are experiencing in Baltimore right now but here, the sun's coming up around 7 am and setting around 4:30 pm.  Often after a long day at school, I find myself walking home at dusk, somewhere between 4 and 5 pm (16:00 and 17:00 on the 24 hour clock).  

Another theme of this week is Viennese idiosyncrasies.  By idiosyncracies I mean those things I notice happening around me or an observation that makes me think, "that would never happen in the US."  

A prime example is means of transportation that people use here.  If I were in the US, teaching a unit on transportation, I'd walk out on a Baltimore corner and see: some buses, some taxis, maybe a train, but predominantly lots and lots of cars.  I remember reading Richard Scarry picture books as a child.  On the page of transportation words, one would find a picture with hundreds of ways to get around.  Unlike in the US where cars are the main form of transportation, people seem to take advantage of anything with wheels here.  
Obviously, I've written already about the subway system (the U-bahn).  In addition to an efficient, punctual subway system, this city has extensive bus and tram routes.  However, what surprises me most is how people get around beyond the forms of public transportation.  As roads have designated bike lanes, biking is very popular.  This morning, on my way to work, I passed a unicycle lying on the ground outside a sandwich shop while its owner bought lunch AND THIS WAS NOT THE FIRST TIME I'VE SEEN A UNICYCLE!  
I can't recall the last time I'd seen a unicycle in the US (probably in some circus context!)

Furthermore, they not only travel on one wheel here but also on scooters.  In the States, It is not uncommon to see children using scooters to get around but here adults regularly use scooters to get around.  I see well-dressed adults heading to or from work holding their scooter as they travel on the U-bahn.  I see men in full winter garb: hat, scarves, gloves and ear muffs cruising down the sidewalk on their scooter!

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