This week started with a little bit of home in Vienna: Canadian Thanksgiving! Amanda, Jason, Jocelyn, Florence and I (aka some of the Vancouverites) got together to celebrate. Although we couldn’t make the traditional Thanksgiving foods (Vienna lacks: whole turkeys, ovens in the student residences, stuffing ingredients, cranberry sauce… basically everything), we compromised by buying some “fancy” items from Naschmarkt (the famous outdoor market in Vienna) such as deli meat from Urbanek and soft cheese. Despite working with the many limitations of living in a student residence, we made our Canadian Thanksgiving feast a success! Before digging in to each course, we went around the table and stated what we were thankful for. The evening served as a reminder of how lucky we are to have so many opportunities at our grasp, including a happy family, a right to education, the chance to travel and study abroad, etc. It was certainly a heartwarming evening.
Amanda’s parents were visiting for the week, and on Wednesday we celebrated her mom’s birthday by eating dim sum at Happy Buddha, a Chinese restaurant near the popular Westbahnhof area of Vienna. We’d lowered our expectations for dim sum, but it turned out to be very delicious and quite authentic. The only downfall is that it was expensive: water and tea are both charged for, and even refills on hot water were charged at Happy Buddha.
In other news…. It (was) Sturm season!
What is sturm, you ask?
Sturm is a delicious unfermented wine drink that appears in the autumn season here in Austria. Although a similar type of drink exists in Southwest Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Bavaria, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, France and more, it is called sturm only in Austria. It has a cloudy appearance and comes in either white or red. As we were explained to in Naschmarkt, it is a living product and therefore is sold uncorked. It is “living” because it is still fermenting in the bottle, and if it were sealed, the bottle would apparently explode. Sturm is very sweet, which masks its alcohol content. This drink is widely consumed during its short season (mainly September – October), and locals and tourists alike go crazy for it. We sure did. It’s also available by the glass at most restaurants at this time. But a word of caution: since it’s still a living product, we were advised not to drink too much, or we would risk getting a stomach ache. All in moderation! Read more about Sturm here.
So, to celebrate the wonderful beverage, Das Campus, a food place on campus at WU (my exchange university), sold sturm to the student body for €2/glass, a reasonable price compared to most restaurants.
Most of this week was spent conserving energy for our trip to Amsterdam for the Amsterdam Music Festival (AMF), a huge electronic dance music (EDM) festival. A few of us UBC students, who are on exchange during first semester, purchased tickets to AMF many months ago. Needless to say, we’d been anticipating this weekend for a loooong time. To express our excitement, a few of us Vancouverites made matching DIY “uniforms” with blank white tanktops, hand-made stencils, and spray paint. Our template was modelled after the popular & trendy “VANCITY” design, and served to represent our Vancouver and Canada pride. It definitely took some elbow grease, but we were extremely happy with the results and couldn’t wait to sport our matching shirts at the festival.
When I arrived in Amsterdam, I was awe-struck by so many things: the beautiful canals, the compact architecture, the patio culture, and above all, the sheer number of BIKES. I felt outnumbered and intimidated by the rows and rows of bikes all over the city.. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in one place. We soon noticed that in Amsterdam, the bike is king. We adopted a “move or get hit” mentality, which kept us on our feet while walking the streets.
Although it’s a very touristy city, I loved the atmosphere in Amsterdam: bright and confident, lively yet serene, mature yet entertaining. Other factors that could have contributed to my positive feelings about the city included the Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) taking place, a five-day festival revolving around EDM (The Netherlands has deep roots in many styles of EDM). ADE could have made the city seem much more populated than it is normally. The service people were very friendly, and the sunny weather was the cherry on top. I may be describing Amsterdam through rose-coloured glasses, but there’s no doubt that I fell in love with the city.
Amsterdam is famous for its Red Light District. Although prostitution in The Netherlands is legal, and RLD workers pay taxes, I’ve read that there is still prejudice against them in some instances, for example when applying for a mortgage at the bank. I suppose that legalizing certain “sinful” activities (ie. prostitution, drug use, etc) can lessen their harmful and crime-related effects. In simpler words, it won’t be “such a big deal” to partake in said “sinful” activities if they are widely allowed. We walked around the RLD at nighttime to observe, and was it ever surreal! The over-the-top sex shops and dolled-up prostitutes in plain sight, along with the “coffee shops” that openly serve cannabis, made for quite the interesting experience. I didn’t feel uncomfortable, but I felt like I was on a movie set, and that everything around me was completely fabricated. It was cool.
In a tourist pamphlet, we found the XtraCold Icebar and just had to try the “club”, which was a minus 8 degrees ice box. It was a very unique experience, but after a while in the ice box we just got too cold.
In Amsterdam, we also visited the Van Gogh Museum, took a canal ride, and visited the Anne Frank House. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time for the Heineken Experience, but we needed to make our way to AMF!
Amsterdam Music Festival was lots of fun. Although it was a nine-hour concert, our adrenaline was flowing strong as we cheered for our favourite EDM DJs.
Amsterdam, you are now my favourite city, and I will one day return to you!