Monday, November 18, 2013

Weekly Interlude 24: The Great Toilet Plunger/Christmas Market Quest

OBI, the Home Depot of Vienna
Last week, I left a toilet plunger on the S-Bahn.

Let me backtrack. The bathtub in my apartment hadn't been draining very well for a while, so Jennifer and Gerhard loaned me their plunger to try and fix the problem. I was tired that evening when they dropped me off at the train station to go home, so I got on the S-Bahn thinking, "Now, don't forget to take the plunger when you get off!" And what did I do? Forgot the plunger. So some lucky person (or the trash or the Lost & Found) scored a plunger last week!

Just to put public transportation in Vienna in perspective, the U-Bahn is the subway, the Straßenbahn is the tram system, and the S-Bahn is the train system that takes you from Vienna out to the suburbs. (The S stands for schnell, which means "fast.") The S-Bahn I was on that night went all the way to Laa an der Thaya, a town far north of Vienna. So basically, this Traveling Plunger could be all the way at the Czech border by now.

The Am Hof Christmas Market
The Am Hof Christmas market
Needless to say, I needed a new plunger because drain problems don't fix themselves. After a little help from a friend, I found the Home Depot of Vienna, called OBI, and set off on an adventure to find it in the south-east corner of the city. It lay between two U-Bahn stops, and I chose the one that looked more direct on my map. What I didn't know was that the sidewalk ends on the side of the street opposite OBI, making it impossible to cross the faux-traffic lanes to get to the orange building (that stands, literally, right across the road; how frustrating!). Instead, I had to cross a different street, walk 2/3 of the way over to the other U-Bahn stop, cross the road again, walk back up the street, turn left along a curving side street, and march across the parking lot. This would have been a little absurd even if I hadn't been wearing a pair of nice fashion boots with heels; I hadn't worn heels since I left in June, so my feet were in so much pain by the time I got to the store.

I now know three words for toilet plunger in German: Stöße (shter-seh), Ausguss (ows-gooss), and, my personal favorite, Saugglocke (zowg-glawkeh). Plus, despite my broken, blistered feet, this story has a happy ending -- my shower drains perfectly!

Baubles at a Christmas market
A tree at the Rathausplatz
Besides scouring the city for plungers, I've also been searching for Christmas Markets, which opened on Friday. Christmas has always been my favorite holiday, and my excitement over it has skyrocketed since a) Austrians don't have Thanksgiving so it's totally acceptable to delve into Christmas before December 1, and b) Vienna is the ideal city for Christmas lovers. I realize that people back in the States are trying to focus on Turkey Day, and many people won't even acknowledge Christmas until December, but seeing as I won't even be living in my apartment for Thanksgiving week (a temporary displacement), Christmas is the way to go for me. Here, look, I'll celebrate Thanksgiving: what am I thankful for? Christmas.

I wish my camera could capture the magic of Christmas markets (Christkindlmarkt) in Vienna, but it simply can't. Just imagine wooden stalls decorated with lights, featuring beautiful artisan crafts and masterpieces, holiday trinkets, traditional Tirolian food, Austrian gingerbread, and (best of all) warm holiday drinks. The air smells like onions, sausages, and mulled red wine (Glühwein); you can stand at tall, wooden tables and enjoy your food and drink while chatting with friends.

Austrian pastries and Christmas drinks
My first Christkindlmarkt mug!
When you pay for a drink at these Christmas markets, you can either keep the mug (which is unique to each market) or you can return it and get a few euros back. I kept my mug from the Rathausplatz; I didn't take a picture, but it's white with a Christmas tree, the golden Rathaus, and an angel, all connected by blue music notes on a staff. It's very festive. The drink I had in it? Hot chocolate, like no other hot chocolate you've ever tasted. The man at the stall scooped a ladleful of chocolate from the chocolate fountain into my mug, mixed it with warm milk, and topped it with Schlagobers (whipped cream). Swiss Miss, you've been benched.

A stall at the Rathausplatz
Baubles at a Christmas market
The traditional Christkindlmarkt drinks are Glühwein (mulled red wine) and Punsch (warm fruit juice, such as grapefruit, with rum). Good thing I have a few more weekends here so I can try the Punsch and perhaps collect some more mugs. This is already shaping up to be a better holiday season than my last four -- it's hard to get excited about the holidays when you have finals right beforehand.

My life at the moment seems filled with the mundane (toilet plungers) and the extraordinary (Christmas markets) -- an exciting combination that keeps me on my toes!

The Rathausplatz Christkindlmarkt

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