Tuesday, March 29, 2011

May I have this waltz?

Lisa and I went to a ball a couple of years ago -- one of the many inaugural balls held throughout Washington, DC following President Obama's inauguration -- and although that particular event qualified as a "ball", any similarity it has with a Viennese ball ends with the inclusion of "ball" in the name.  According to the ball guide assembled by one of the local dance schools, there are no less than 140 balls scheduled from late December through the end of March, although a handful occur later in the year.  (The official ball calendar underestimates the total number of balls -- the number easily doubles if you include those balls not listed as well as those occurring outside of the larger Austrian cities.)  Every ball has a distinct personality determined, more or less, by the organization hosting the ball.  Among the three balls we went to, the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) Ball was the most elegant and had a bit of international flair since many of the attendees work at the UN.  The Rudolfina Redoute (Masquerade Ball) featured a younger crowd where the females were encouraged to wear a mask.  And the third ball, the Irish Charity Ball, was the most indulgent:  unlimited Guinness beer and Jameson whiskey were included with the price of admission!  Naturally, this ball has a reputation for turning into a total shit show.

Virtually all balls are black-tie events with the women expected to wear modern, floor length ball gowns, and the men expected to wear tuxedos/smoking jackets.  The Irish Charity Ball, however, wasn't quite as strict:  women were allowed to wear cocktail dresses and the men were permitted to wear suits.  Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the balls are all-night affairs:  most balls start sometime between 8 and 9PM and go until 5AM.  I've grown so accustomed to the standard ~1AM last call in the United States that the prospect of dancing and drinking until 5AM seems unfathomable.  I'm not sure how the Viennese do it.  But they do.  And this is us trying to.

The IAEA Ball is a pretty regal affair...fortunately they let me in
Dance performance before the debutantes make their debut
The debutantes and their partners
On the way up to the main ballroom in the Hofburg Palace (IAEA Ball)
The Hofburg palace is enormous and feels even more so when trying to navigate the many rooms, halls, and corridors.  Many of the larger and classier balls -- the IAEA and Masquerade balls included -- have both a string orchestra and brass band alternating in the main ballroom where the dances danced include the Viennese waltz, slow waltz, foxtrot, quickstep, cha cha, rumba, and tango, among others.   The remaining rooms may have smaller bands or DJs catering to all manner of taste -- the IAEA ball had a salsa room and the Masquerade ball had an electronica room -- so it would be difficult to not find somewhere to dance.  Below is the room where our table was located at the masquerade ball...
Waltzing to an electric guitar is possible
as well as a few more pics from the ball.
The mask remains on until midnight -- at which point the woman reveals her identity...
...to her suitor.
The girls...
...the guys
The Irish Charity Ball, unlike the IAEA and Masquerade balls, revels in its less elegant purpose:  to drink and raise money for charity.  
Guinness #1!
Bagpipes aren't just a Scottish thing...
Unlike the other balls we went to, this one included dinner (aside from that meal in a glass:  Guinness)
Mixing it up with a Jameson and Ginger Ale. 
I'm, I'm...so proud. That a girl!
Let's see:  one, two, three, four, five?  yes...that's right -- five pints of Guinness!

Monday, March 21, 2011

London, Baby!

The vernal (spring) equinox, March 20th, marks the official start to spring.  And if you want to be precise, the equinox occurred this year at 11:21 PM, at which point Lisa, Steffi (a friend of ours) and I were on our way back from an unofficial, impromptu London pub crawl.  For better or worse, the pubs in London shutter between 11PM and midnight so if you are going to drink any respectable amount of ale (a few pints?), starting early is prudent.  And so is adequate nourishment.  I think fish and chips qualifies:
Fried goodness

Unfortunately, my ale-induced shortsightedness stopped snapping pictures shortly after gorging on enough grease to kill a small goat.  We did manage, however, to catalog most of the weekend leading up to the official start of spring:

Steffi and Lisa along the Thames
Posing in front of Tower Bridge
Millennium Bridge
Pretending we're cool and artistic...until the shadow puppets torpedoed any semblance of cool.
Pint of beer on a boat-turned-bar on the Thames
Behold the London Eye!
Vienna?  London?  Who's calling? 
"European Vacation" more or less ruined this for me (and Lisa, too, since she was subjected to it):  "Hey look kids, there's Big Ben, and there's Parliament...Hey look kids, there's Big Ben, and there's Parliament..."

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Cheese, Hummus, Bread, and Vegetables

Vienna doesn't have Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, Wegmans, or Smith's (nod to the SLC peeps there!).  The closest thing to resemble a big box grocer is a place called 'Hofer' but I can't speak to the character of the place since neither Lisa nor I have been there.  (There is, however, a place quite similar to Costco in that the place is enormous both in size in selection -- and a membership is required -- but since trips there are so infrequent I don't really consider it a source for weekly foodstuffs.)  Anyway, Lisa and I buy most of our food from Vienna's largest and boldest (and most touristy?) food market:  Naschmarkt.  This market is a little over a mile from our apartment -- within walking distance -- and features stalls selling cheese, meats/fish, bread, pastries, vegetables, flowers, wine/beer, and hummus & falafel.  There are also several casual and inexpensive restaurants.  It took a little getting used to buying our produce and fish in a somewhat chaotic environment -- my German hasn't yet reached a point where I can comfortably (even clumsily!) converse with a vendor -- nevertheless, I've grown quite fond of buying 'real' food from local vendors in a relatively small, intimate environment.   This isn't to say, however, that we don't also frequent grocery stores -- mostly for non-perishables -- the two primary ones being Spar and Billa.  Both are chain grocers but rather than placing a few, obscenely large ones throughout a city, several small, corner-market type joints are placed throughout the city (sometimes two per block!).  Here are a few snapshots of our weekly trip to Naschmarkt:

"Cheese Land":  We eat considerably more cheese since we discovered this place.
The mass of people wandering through Naschmarkt.
Carbocide waiting to happen...but so worth it.
Capable of making vegetarians swoon...
And swoon some more
Pure goodness.
Poster-child for eating well and healthy.  Beste Frau aller Zeiten!
Dr. Falafel:  Austria's Best Falafel.  Their hummus is damn tasty, too.