Friday, January 27, 2012

Patriotism, Powder, and a Parking Lot

Had we not been there to experience it, I doubt we would have believed it:  unbridled Austrian patriotism.  It's obvious that Lisa and I don't frequent the kinds of places and events conducive to Austrian nationalism since we were so surprised and amused by the enthusiasm on display at the ski jumping tournament (Vierschanzentournee) in Bischofsofen in early January.  Inhibition, pragmatism, and gritty politeness this event certainly wasn't:  drunk teenagers wrestling in the snow and men jumping the outhouse line to piss behind or next to the port-o-potty -- all of it under the banner of Austrian nationalism.  It was great. 
Hard to tell from this view, but the landing for that ski jump is ridiculously steep.
Austrian beer, Austrian flag, and nearly fluent in German.  The Austrians love her...
...but they love their ski jumping superstars more.
Even though we're waving an Austrian flag -- no American ski jumpers competed -- I still waited in line to use the john.  
After nearly 30 minutes of delay due to heavy snow fall, we bailed and drove -- most of the way -- to the hotel we booked in a nearby canyon.  So much snow had fallen that the canyon road had become impassable unless you were driving on studded snow tires or chains.  We had neither and the all-season radials on the beat up VW just weren't going to cut it.  So we called a taxi.  Good thing, too, because the next morning the suckers that drove to the hotel were plowed in and digging out from under a few feet of snow.  Taxi!  After returning to our car, we jettisoned the plan to drive the ~2 hours to Kitzbühel and instead decided to stay and ski at Hochkönig then motor out to Kitzbühel later that day.  Stellar day on the hill.  
First run of the day.  This is going to be a good day. 
Kitzbühel has a reputation for being snobby and swanky -- Prada-wearing Porsche owners are the norm --  but a skiers destination nonetheless since the mountain is home to the ski-racing world's most difficult piste, the Hahnenkamm.  Lisa and I rolled into town, somewhat haggard and pretending that the Jetta handles as well as a Porsche Cayenne -- we're cool like that -- only to drive right past it to the more modest, yet still moneyed, Kirchberg, a few kilometers away.  We scored a free room upgrade -- it must have been the air of confidence that follows from pretending to drive a Porsche -- then ate at the hotel restaurant/bar, Asado's, which is, apparently, ranked among the top ten in Austria.  When we woke the next morning the power was out -- it was eventually restored by mid-morning -- but when we arrived at the ski resort, there were a couple of resort representatives informing everyone that nearly all the resort was closed due to high winds and avalanche danger.   
Skier's despair
Rather than pony up the ~43 euro for a lift pass for a half-dozen beginner pistes and no guarantee that much more of the mountain would open, we wandered around Kirchberg.
"There!  Right there!  A Prada purse!"
Around 2PM or so, a modest number of trails had opened -- the Hahnenkamm among them -- so Lisa and I bought reduced-price lift passes for the remainder of the afternoon and managed to ski the Hahnenkamm, as well as a couple of other trails, before the power went out.  Again.  And while we were on a ski lift.  When we finally made it to the top of the lift -- the chairs move very s-l-o-w on emergency power -- we were instructed to return to the base.  At least the bar at the base -- sans power -- was still serving draft beer. 
So what if Après Ski starts a little earlier?
Ski or Après Ski...whatever! 
I suppose we should have expected as much given the amount of snow that had fallen over the last several days but Lisa and I weren't really expecting any of the major highways out of the Tirolean Alps to be closed due to avalanche danger or landslides.  Such misplaced optimism.  Our intent was to drive north from Kirchberg into Germany then pick up the autobahn for a relatively straight shot to Vienna but when we arrived to the mountain pass it was closed and no one seemed to know when it would re-open.  Rather than hang out, we reversed course and headed for a more southerly route only to eventually come upon a long line of parked cars and trailer trucks waiting for yet a different pass to open.  It was reported that that road would open at 3PM.  It was 10:30AM when we arrived.  We decided to wait it out, hopeful that the road would be cleared sooner than projected.  After five hours it became obvious that the road had not been cleared and wasn't going to be anytime soon.  But the route we had initially tried to take, however, was now open.  So we back-tracked and, fortunately, it was still open by the time we returned.  What was suppose to be a 5-6 hour journey from Kitzbühel to Vienna took 12 hours.  A couple of things became (more) obvious to me after sitting in a parked car for five hours:  first, a single Nalgene of water is barely adequate for two people when they're rationing salty pretzel crumbs ("these pretzels are making me thirsty!") and, second, after twelve hours in a ten-year old Jetta, no amount of pretending is going to convince you you're riding in a Porsche Cayenne. 
This road didn't re-open for another day or so.  We would have had to eat our shoes if we stayed.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Oh Vienna, So Enchanting

Perhaps global quality of living rankings are akin to academic pissing contests, nevertheless, I was pleased to see Vienna come out on top in the 2011 rankings.  Mercer's, a global consulting firm, annually ranks cities according to their quality of living -- using New York City as the referent -- based on 39 criteria in 10 categories.  Even though the methodology isn't explained in great detail on the website, Mercer's states that each category is weighted to reflect its importance in quality of living as experienced by expatriates.  The report obviously discloses that the rankings are intended for the expatriate population but this point isn't emphasized so you could argue that quality of living is distinctly different from quality of life -- perhaps ~75% overlap?  Quality of living may be more about the ease of moving to the city, adjusting to it, then building a fulfilling life once you're settled.  Quality of life, however, may be more about the life you live once you start calling that city 'home'.  Or maybe not -- perhaps any differences between the two are simply semantic?  Questions and issues aside, though, the rankings make for interesting fodder.  Here are the top ten:
  1. Vienna, Austria
  2. Zurich, Switzerland
  3. Auckland, New Zealand
  4. Munich, Germany
  5. Dusseldorf, Germany
  6. Vancouver, Canada
  7. Frankfurt, Germany
  8. Geneva, Switzerland
  9. Bern, Switzerland & Copenhagen, Denmark (tie)
The US city highest on the list is Honolulu with a ranking of 29, followed by San Francisco (30th), Boston (36th), Chicago (43rd), Washington, DC (also 43rd), NYC (47th), Seattle (48th), and, finally, Pittsburgh at 49.    

Lisa and I have been living in Vienna for nearly a year-and-a-half and although my shoddy German certainly isn't a reflection of life in Vienna ("Mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut" is a common refrain), I agree with Mercer's:  Vienna does have a high -- the best according to some -- quality of living. 

Cheers to Austria!
Lisa and I at a ski jumping competition in Bischofshofen.  We'd never seen so much Austrian patriotism at one time:  the Austrians love their ski jumpers!  (Disclaimer:  There wasn't a single American skier competing.)