International Travel: Stamps in My Passport

Stamps_in_a_passportPart of the work that took me to Vienna in November 2008 included a road trip with some of my colleagues to Obrezje, Slovenia. Obrezje is on the border between Slovenia and Croatia, and in less than a day, we made several trips across the border crossings between the two countries. This is where I learned something that will likely make my European friends laugh: when you cross at a land border, the stamp has a little car on it!  See Obrezje, on top on the left? Hey, I live in a big country, and I’m pretty sure the only way I’ve crossed its borders has been by airplane – see stamp in lower right. I have lots of little airplanes in my passport, not so many little cars! Of course, as much as I enjoy traveling to these amazing places, my favorite stamp is that oval one in the upper right hand corner!

Three Simple Observations from Vienna, Mongolia, and Romania

First, from Romania: savor a perfect experience.  if it’s truly perfect, like my first trip to the “Bla” (Swedish for blue) Lounge in the Bucharest Radisson, there’s no way the second trip can meet the same standard. It may be good, even really good, but probably not perfect. You may encounter a particularly young waiter who doesn’t understand that it’s bad form to deliver the bill before the food and drink have been presented.

Second, also from Romania but more from Mongolia: a city is far more welcoming once you walk the streets and find a cafe where you manage, despite having no local language skills, to order a soul-refreshing bowl of soup. (Ok, I had to confess to Oana, so the cafe turned out in this case to be the bistro at the Hilton. I didn’t know that when I went in!) 

Third, from Vienna: a city where you know virtually no one may seem foreign and somewhat unwelcoming before you get a chance to walk the streets. But there is nothing more lonely than knowing that somewhere, within a few foreign blocks, your friends and colleagues are enjoying a lovely meal – waiting for you – and you are unable to find them, call them, or walk another step.

Amazing Tomato Essence Soup

One of the best benefits of traveling is that you sometimes get to eat in amazing restaurants that have food you’d never encounter otherwise. Here at the Arcotel in Vienna, I ordered a soup for dinner the other night, called “Essence of Tomato Soup”, that was said to have “Clear Tomato Noodles”. I was encouraged that this would be a good experience because I had ordered the pumpkin soup on a prior night at this restaurant and was delighted at the experience. As for the name of the soup and its ingredients, I assumed this was another case of imperfect translation from one language to another, or as has happened so many times, my simple misunderstanding.

100_1459But, no! This soup was nothing like my favorite tomato soup from a can. There was no question on tasting it that it is tomato soup. But it was not red, it barely had any color at all. And when I started to sip it, I thought that it was just a broth. Until I chanced upon a Clear Noodle.

Ok, when was the last time you were so struck by your tomato soup that you asked if you could take its picture? You can see the noodles propped up by the spoon. But the rest of them – yes, there were more! were virtually invisible in the soup.

Am I the only one who thinks this is funny?

Flush_ButtonOn prior trips to Europe, I had seen an engineering innovation in which toilets had two flush buttons, one for “liquid waste” and one for “solid waste”. I’ve started to see these toilets in the US now too. It seems like a perfectly reasonable way to conserve water. But here in the Arcotel in Vienna, the clean, modern engineering has a humorous element. It took me a little while to figure out, but once I did, I can only chuckle at the engineer who had fun coming up with this flush button.

View from the Arcotel in Vienna

I have gotten some really amazing hotels in my travels, and some that were not so great. After a string of the not-so-great, I started a practice of taking a picture – or in really memorable cases, pictures – from the  window of my room wherever I’m staying. One of my favorites turned out to be a picture of the non-descript roof of the building next door. The reason it was my favorite though, was because it was the first time my favorite travel person, Tracy, managed to get me booked into the Ritz Carlton at Pentagon City. The roof was of one of my favorite places – Pentagon City Mall. I was in heaven!

100_1461Well, so much for history – here is the picture from the Arcotel. It’s a gray day, damp and foggy. Appropriate for November. But this hotel is situated in a nice little corner. There is a playground across the street and an easy walking path to get to the Vienna International Center where we have our meetings.

Erin likes the free breakfast especially because it has so many nummy breakfast foods – not a trivial consideration for a veggie as she is! Now if only the hotel had better internet connection, I would be perfectly content!

It’s Lonely Here in Vienna on Election Night

I am so grateful to be able to contribute to work that brings me to Vienna periodically. But tonight, I must admit, I’d be happier to be home at the local election watch party. To be able to share the anxiety with others who have worked the last two years trying to bring new leadership to the country. At 12:30 am Vienna time, only some of the polls in Indiana and Kentucky have closed and are reporting. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to stay awake to see the final outcome. It doesn’t help any to have gotten panic emails and IMs from the Obama camp saying, “It’s close! We need you to call!”

Ok, so where I’d really like to be is in Chicago. They estimate there may be as many as 1,000,000 people gathering there for a celebration with Barack Obama after the election. For the good of the country, I sure hope those million people are celebrating with President–Elect Obama!

Arg. How will I make it until someone calls the election?!?!

My first trip to Vienna

Here are some pix from my first trip to Vienna. Well, at least the first trip where I stopped, left the airport, worked, got to walk around the city. This was my first trip where Vienna wasn’t just a layover on the way to somewhere else!

The first pictures are of some little sculptures in the display window of a museum I saw when I was walking with Doug, one of the members of the team. They look Mongolian to me – and since that’s the other country I’ll be traveling to over the next few years, they caught my attention.

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And these are pix of the Italian Alps on the way from Vienna to Milan, Italy. The pictures are natural color, taken through the airplane window, and not adjusted in any way (other than cropped in some cases). I liked how the fog crept in through the sharp valleys.

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And then there were these little darlings. They were adorable, but do you see what each of them has in hand? A blackberry! Arg! Addiction starts young!

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The Previous Trip to Vienna

The last time the team was in Vienna, it was August. Here are some of my favorite images – including a “Group Photo” taken from an amazing restaurant high on a hill above Vienna. We all work for Erin – the tiny but brilliant person in the middle of the pack.

Team Erin

Ok, I know I just said she was brilliant. But here’s a picture (left below) from a restaurant where it took us both about 15 minutes to realize that the teacup she had asked the server for several times – was right there under the tea pot! Great design, but ultimately a humbling pot of tea!  Sorry about the lack of focus – was laughing!

On the right is an amazing monument in Vienna – built by Emperor Leopold I to commemorate the city at long last emerging from the plague.

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