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Tails From the Vienna Woods

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New York 2016

NYC versus Vienna, My Perspective

One week (okay, two weeks, if you count my visit last September) in NYC is not the same as actually living there, so perhaps comparisons aren’t fair. But, if the silly folks conducting the Mercer survey can compare Vienna, a young Republic with ~1.7 million people (and rank it the “best” city for Quality of Living) to New York City, a wise old city with ~8 million people, then so can I.

NYC versus Vienna (vis-a-vis my own categories, like Mercer, and in no order)

1. Shopping. The 5.800 m2 Whole Foods at Columbus Circle (and the shopping scene in general).

Thank you, Internet, for the photo
Once you get past the $6 Diet Water (I am not joking), this mecca is a treasure trove. Quite literally, any cuisine the girls and I wanted for dinner could be purchased. In one place. AND THE STORE WAS OPEN UNTIL 2300! EVERY DAY! Ditto for nearby Trader Joe’s. Each store had in excess of 24 checkout lanes, and they were all open. In Vienna some of the larger grocers have 12-14 lanes, but even during peak hours no more than 4 or 5 lanes are open. It’s like a cruel Communist-era joke.
The girls also shopped Macy’s, the largest department store in the world, on President’s Day. Sara, Anna Grace’s friend from Slovenia, pronounced being able to shop on a holiday, “Glorious.”  Her parents may think differently once the credit card bill arrives…
2. Transit. Entschuldigen, Vienna, but the Wiener Linien transit folks, kind and helpful as some of them can be, have nothing on the MTA folks. Our first weekend fell over a long holiday (US President’s Day) and some subway schedules were changed; in addition, track work was being conducted along a couple of popular routes. MTA had folks on the platform to guide riders all weekend; in Vienna we get, at best, a message over the address system or paper notices, and even then they are not all that helpful.  As we were exiting the subway near the Brooklyn Bridge walkway, a seasoned transit worker not only welcomed us to NY but directed us to the path entrance. Nothing like that has ever happened in Vienna.
It bears mention, though, that Vienna’s transit system is much cleaner than that of NYC. Of course, the U-Bahn is a toddler at 78km in length and not-quite 40 years of age compared to Metro, one of the oldest subway systems in the world and spanning Three Hundred and 78km.  And, we were able to check, “NYC Subway Rat” off the Bucket List!
Thank you, Internet, for the photo
One final corollary is that NY’ers, by and large, are friendly to and accommodating of tourists. On at least three occasions we were asked if we needed directions when we slowed in our attempts to keep up with the NYC breakneck sidewalk pace; in Vienna, I could stand for hours at Kärntner Ring/Oper with an open city map of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and not a single Viennese would offer assistance.
3. Culture Costs. Vienna museums (and many across Europe) offer free admission to students 19 years of age and under. New York City would do well to adopt this practice. Though admission is “Pay What You Wish” at some of the museums, the girls offers of less than the “recommended admission” were met with eye rolls by the clerks. Look, NYC, do you or do you not want young people to appreciate art? Seriously, The Met and Natural History have endowments larger than the GDP of Austria (I’m making this up, of course); why extort good shopping money from Teenagers?
4. Drinking Water. Sure, Vienna’s water is alpine fresh. NYC’s is also world-renowned, and they serve four times the customers than Vienna. It’s a draw.
Basically, there’s really no comparing NYC and Vienna, and it’s a shame that companies like Mercer keep trying.

Repatriation

Whenever Tony returns from a work trip to a dry country, I repatriate him with lunch at one of our favorite restaurants for Austrian food and a beer (or two).  Following my return last weekend from New York, Tony thoughtfully garnered provisions so that I would not have to face the grocery on a Saturday afternoon just before the store closes at 1800. On Sunday, our least favorite day to be in Austria, the repatriation continued with a visit to neighboring Slovakia and the Danubiana Meulensteen Museum.
About an hour from the house, this modern (but not weird) art museum sits on a small peninsula in the Danube, with large windows that flood the galleries with light and offer soothing views of the river. A perfect way to ease back into Central Europe.

The museum’s exhibits rival those in Vienna’s museums, at least we think. On this occasion we enjoyed two new openings; the first, by a Slovak post-modern artist, and the second, by “The great lone wolf of Austrian art of the 1960’s,” Christian Ludwig Attersee.

Mostly the paintings offered us pleasing designs and colors. This one, though, made no sense at all.

Afterwards, lunch at a small, small restaurant near the museum that has become a favorite stop. Surprise! I did not order my usual Zander. Instead, I mixed things up with the whole grilled Forelle. a European cousin to Trout.

Before crossing the border, a final stop at an OPEN GROCERY STORE. Not quite the 5.500m2 Whole Foods mecca in New York City, though I was still able to pick up fresh pasta and some fabulous Slovak wine for dinner. It is good to be home.

One Week. 110km. The Big Apple. Part II

Shopping was an event all unto itself while in NY. The girls were like kids in a candy store, literally, at Dylan’s Candy Bar. Who wouldn’t be?  Even I bought a package of “vintage” Razzles.
I am not a big sweets eater, but I do love this marshmallow-y goodness, and America came through in Peeps-tacular form. 
(Only this small package of Cotton Candy Peeps came home with me, though.)
✔️ Shopping in the largest department store in the world. Sara asked, “What is a President’s Day Sale?” 
✔️Lunch in Little Italy. Terribly cliche, unless you know where to dine. We do. Years ago on one of our NYC trips we came upon a small, family run restaurant that serves genuine, non-trendy Italian food, and we have been faithful diners ever since.
A “snack” at Five Guys Burgers and Fries.  Not an NYC institution; rather, founded by (five) Michigan alum and preparing burgers like they are meant to be prepared. Sara was impressed.
Basil Lemonade at an upscale noodle shop near NYU was definitely SnapChat worthy.
✔️On the day of forecast torrential rain we headed for The Met, but not before a bagel stop at a street vendor.
The Temple of Dendur and the Costume Institute were the SnapChat favorites.
The figure is of a priestess who served at the temples, and is said to embody, “The perfected ideal of the female form.”

On exhibition in the Costume Institute was a portion of the collection of Jacqueline de Ribes, a countess and “celebrated fashion persona” of the 20th century. We just liked the clothes.

For just plain fun we all went for a spin on the Sea Glass Carousel at Battery Park…
…explored the soon-to-be iconic Apple Store on Fifth Avenue…
…and skated in Bryant Park.
We paid a somber visit to the 9/11 Memorial (but did not take photos), and walked over to the little-visited Irish Hunger Memorial.  Anna Grace has Irish heritage, though the memorial also spoke to other lands that had suffered famine. We all thought the memorial was very well done.
✔️ On our last morning, the MoMA. The girls were impressed with Starry Night up close and in person.

 And, look!  Our own Conchita Wurst on display in one of the galleries!

 So, those are the highlights. Six days, 110km around Manhattan, and memories for a lifetime.

One Week. 110km. The Big Apple. Part I

The story begins last summer, a couple of days after I had booked my home leave to NYC for September. Anna Grace said, “Awww. I want to go to New York, too.” Her friend Sara happened to be visiting at the time, and she said, “I’ve never been to New York.”  And so the plan was hatched; within a couple of days we were all booked for the half-term break.
The flights were smooth; the 90 minute connection time through CDG was its usual pain in the ass.  Immigration at JFK was dreamlike; though we are US citizens, Sara is not, and so the incredibly kind Immigration officers ushered us together through a “special” line. Passports were stamped, we were welcomed home and Sara was given a, “Welcome to America!” Throughout the week nearly every encounter we had with a New Yorker, be they a transit worker or regular citizen was so positive that even Sara commented, “We are not in Vienna.”
For the week we had rented an apartment in Midtown, about 10 minutes from Times Square. Each day we had a sightseeing plan (and we still managed to walk 110km!); and each evening we would stop at the bagel deli on the corner to pick up morning provisions. The bagels were so delicious they almost brought tears to my eyes. 
During our visit we were treated to record cold temperatures, snow, spring-like weather, and a day of torrential rain. The weather did not deter us, however,  from checking off a rather long list of, “When in NYC…”
✔️Times Square. Too cold for the Naked Singing Cowboy, but there’s always other  “characters” wandering around.
✔️Rockefeller Center. 
Admiring the flag of her homeland, Slovenia.
✔️The American Museum of Natural History, a perfect choice for one of the coldest days of our visit. Here, the girls are posing with a celebrity from, “Night at the Museum.” We spent the better part of a day here; the hall of birds and mammals, and the Ocean Life exhibit were among the favorites for their SnapChat MyStory selfies.

✔️Riding in a NYC Yellow Taxi en route to Bloomingdales.

✔️Chinatown. By good fortune (pun intended), we were in NY to see Chinatown’s New Year’s Parade. Though it may be the Year of the Monkey, the parade abounded with dragons.

What’s a Chinese New Year’s parade without the Scotsmen and their bagpipes?

 Or the oh-so-American Fortune Cookie?

✔️Grand Central Terminal.

No, the girls aren’t on a time out. They’re testing the corners of the Whispering Gallery. Because of the domed curves of an intersection within the terminal, anything someone whispers into the corner will travel diagonally across the gallery. Fun!

✔️Riding the New York subway. Bonus points for even having seen one of the famous NYC Subway rats, too!

✔️ A NYC Icon, the Empire State Building. Impressive views from the 86th floor, though none of us were convinced they warranted the $32 ticket.

✔️Riding the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty. Ticket cost? Absolutely free!

 ✔️Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. Another of the rare free activities in New York.

 More to come…

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