- The Viennese we encountered were extremely friendly and helpful. I was feeling guilty about knowing only about four or five words of German. I would have liked it if I'd had time to learn some before traveling to Austria, but I was impressed not only with the locals' command of English, but how gracious they were about speaking it with us. I thought that might be the case at tourist attractions, but even in less common tourist situations, such as needing to mail a large envelope of documents to the US, people were able and willing to help us. Danke, people of Vienna!
- We got a fantastic deal on our hotel by booking through hotwire.com (I promise they're not paying me to say this). I didn't really expect any perks beyond having a place to stay close to a lot of the tourist attractions, but it turned out that breakfast was included in our hotel price. And it wasn't overripe bananas, flavorless apples, and Otis Spunkmeyer muffins that appear to have been sitting around since the Clinton administration like at a lot of hotels in the US. This breakfast buffet had eggs, breakfast meats, smoked fish, all sorts of fancy cheese, cut up fruits and vegetables, several flavors of yogurt, fresh bread, and granola. Food was somewhat pricey in Vienna, so it was a huge boon to have one of our three meals taken care of each day, especially with such a wonderful selection of foods to try.
- Vienna seemed like a very fit city. We saw lots of people walking and biking at all times of day. I feel like in some parts of the US, you are just expected to drive everywhere once you reach a certain age. It was refreshing to see so many adults, including adults wearing business attire, make walking and biking a part of their day.
- This observation led to another observation regarding the lack of fitness in our lives in Kazakhstan. Between having our home and work essentially on a construction site and having just come out of a harsh winter, we haven't been walking around outside too much. I thought we were making up for that by going to the gym frequently, but I no longer think it works that way. We walked a lot in Vienna, and I was shocked by how achey my legs felt. I've never had that happen before, even though I've certainly gone on active vacations before when I've had sedentary jobs. It was a rather sobering observation.
- Austria gives me hope for other countries. I spent about a year studying in Syria between 2004 and 2005. I feel so sad and discouraged about the situation there, and often wonder what they way forward is after so much death and destruction. It occurred to me that times in Austria's history must have seemed extremely bleak. While I'm sure that Austria has problems just like anywhere else, an awful lot seems to have gone right there. It is heartening to know that that can happen.
We've been back in Astana for several weeks now. When we returned, fresh snow had fallen. At that point, I lost hope that winter would ever end here. But it did! The thaw happened startling quickly, leaving us with a sea of mud. At this point, though, I'll take mud over snow and ice. I keep getting mud on my pants, but I'm not really sure how. Am I really dragging the bottoms of my shoes over my pants that much? Oh well.
Now that spring has actually sprung, we have a few excursions in the offing, so I hope to have some more pictures soon!