My job in France is incredibly challenging.  Partly because there are a lot of new things to learn, but partly because it’s just a grind.  There’s a lot to get caught up on (since there was no Controller for over a year) and a lot of things that people want . . . and they all want it NOW.  The issue is when local management, European HQ and US Global HQ all want something different and they all assume that you’ll have time to do their one thing today (or this week or before your vacation . . . you get the point) because they know nothing about what the others have asked you for.  I’ve been working 10-12+ hour days pretty consistently since I arrived three months ago and, based on my 2017 schedule of work, I don’t see that changing any time soon.😐😒😭  Getting off work between 8 and 9 PM most nights makes it challenging to find time for regular life – as I told my friend, I need a 1950’s wife!

All of this is to say that I was extremely stressed out by the time that I reached the airport for my vacation, which could explain why I literally cried when I found out my flight from Poitiers to Lyon was canceled.  And I LOATHE crying in public.  Though the crying could be why I wasn’t required to call in to rearrange my plans, but rather a very nice British lady (who spoke fluent French) took care of it for me.  They could get me to Lyon that night, but not to Austria until the next day.

I thought I’d make the best of it by seeing Lyon for Christmas, but I was too tired by the time I actually made it there; however, it still turned out not to be so bad.  You’d think the “crying over a canceled flight” thing would scare anyone off, but instead a very nice Frenchman, who was in the same boat as me, helped me find the desk in Lyon to get my voucher and to locate the hotel.  Since we were at the same hotel with dinner vouchers, he invited me to dinner with him too (and lunch after we return to our home city).  And frankly, the hotel that the airline put us in was much nicer than the simple single room I’d booked for myself in Vienna . . . although, I again have to comment on how much I appreciate the ability to book a tiny “single” in Europe for a bargain price.  For me, as long as the place is clean, well-located and the bed is comfortable, I’m not really hanging out in my room, so I don’t care!  Edit to comment that the bed in Vienna actually was NOT comfortable 😔

Left is a 4* hotel and right is a 3*

I finally made it to Vienna a little past noon on Christmas Eve.  Due to the location of my hotel, the bargain bus that went direct to the West Bahnhof (train station) was faster than the express train to the U-bahn (subway), so I bought the cheap 48 hour pass and took the bus.  Of course, when I understood that the bus driver was asking where I was from in German, I answered, “Étas Unis.”  After he frowned at me, it occurred to me that I’d said it in French, so I corrected myself.  Yes, I’m now telling people that I’m from the US in French!

Since the main Christmas market was only open through Christmas Eve, I headed there once I arrived.  When I first entered, I noticed what appeared to be “beer punch.”  Sorry, but hot beer punch just sounded gross to me, so I took a pass!  {My German friend, Tina, later clarified that “beeren” is berry, so hot berry punch (not beer) actually!}  Instead, I decided to try Weihnachtspunsch (Christmas punch), which I later learned is typically a mix of tea, sugar, spices, red wine and rum – sometimes with fresh oranges or lemons squeezed in.  I have a mild allergy to oranges and had an issue with one of the varieties of vin chaud I tried; pretty sure my punch here also had orange unfortunately, but it tasted good!

During a special occasion like this, I have no issue with exceeding my usual “one pineau per week” with an occasional glass of wine.  How often will I be at Austrian Christmas markets after all?  So, I also tried Glühwein, with the Glühwein having a much more “spiced” flavor and tasting more like vin chaud.  The cup at the markets here are actual porcelain cups and you pay a deposit, which is returned if you choose to return the cup.  I decided to keep this cute one!

There were some similarities to French Christmas markets, but some clear differences.  Not only were the drink offerings different, but the food!  My first impression was that it felt very “Germanic” – both in the food served (sauerkraut, sausages, etc) and the language here is also German.

On my way back from the market, I stopped in to see if I could figure out what this interesting building was, but I was tired and didn’t make a very thorough investigation.  What I did discover was a free restroom though!  You begin to scout these out in Europe and it’s a serious undertaking – I have paid between 0.50 and 1.50 just to use a toilet!  Sometimes this toilet will be lacking an actual seat even!  

So, I was very happy to find a free toilet . . . which brings me to the next topic.  As you start traveling the world, you realize that the standard US toilet, with a giant bowl full of water that empties each time, is NOT the norm.  In France, it’s a much smaller amount of standing water, with a high-pressure gush from the front that flushes everything down.  In Vienna, all of the toilets I’ve seen so far have VERY little water in the front with a large platform that everything will just sit on until you flush (a large gush from the back in this case).  I admit that I find the platform thing a little weird, but at least it isn’t a squatty potty!

I rounded out my Christmas Eve by sharing Indian food with friends, who were also in Vienna for the holidays.  This was my first time not spending the holidays with my family in the US and my menu was pretty eclectic as a result!  Christmas day I ordered the “classic” breakfast at my hotel, which had some aspects that were similar to France (bread and jam with similar deli meats to some French buffets), but some that I haven’t really seen (wheat roll, veggies and hard cheese) . . . plus the coffee was not espresso, so it was HUGE compared to what I’m used to now.  

Around lunchtime, I had spätzle with bacon and leeks, plus tried out hot apple wine.  Sorry Swabian Germany and Alsace – this was the best spätzle I’ve had so far!  Whatever was on it (almost like a parmesan cheese) made it NOT bland at all.  When I met up with my friends they hadn’t eaten lunch yet, so I ordered a child-size pork wiener schnitzel, which I always thought was German, but have now learned originated from Vienna.  “Wien” is actually the name of Vienna, so “Wiener” means Viennese!  My “child-size” pork and fries would be a full adult serving in France, so I ended up so full that I didn’t eat dinner.  Now, THAT part felt like an American Christmas!

We were doing this eating on Christmas at Schloss Schönbrunn because, miraculously, it was open on Christmas.  Of course, it turned out that a lot of other people had the same idea.

To keep this post at a reasonable length, I’ll stop here for now and post part 2 tomorrow about the fascinating lives of the occupants of Schloss Schönbrunn.