Culture and Languages · History · Travel

Ohhh Vienna: Arrival and Day One

Our immediate impression of Vienna was that it reminded us of Bahrain. Then again, that’s somehow our first impression of nearly every place my sisters’ and I visit, so that’s probably not much to go on! Despite being late evening, we were greeted by hot night air and, of course, large screens displaying photos of Schnitzel above the luggage conveyer belt. I’ve opted to gloss over the fact that people actually clapped when the plane landed because, to be honest, I’m still suspended in shock and disbelief 24 hours on.

We landed in Vienna International Airport, or Flughafen Wien-Schwechat in German, just as the sun was setting, which we watched from the aeroplane window as we descended. As our flight was delayed, and then our luggage was even more delayed, we arrived at our hotel well after dark – and well after dinner time! So, after depositing our bags, we set off to find some food. After walking for about five minutes we came across a busy and buzzing square, where we settled on an Italian restaurant. By the time that we finished eating it was coming up to midnight, and thus we went straight to bed. Sounds seamless doesn’t it? Unfortunately, about half an hour in, my bed literally collapsed! Lifting up the mattress, we found that about three quarters of the slats were missing and I had to relocate to a different bed. Thankfully, the second bed was 100% bed, as opposed to 25% bed, and so I finally was able to sleep.

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The next morning we quickly got ready, then set out for the Schönbrunn Palace, which is situated just outside of Vienna. Schönbrunn Palace was a summer residence that belonged to successive Hapsburg monarchs. As it is slightly further away than most sights, we had to take a taxi, which, surprise surprise, only held four people. However, after we received our second taxi of the morning, we set straight off and ended up arriving at the palace half an hour earlier than our tickets were booked for. Because we could not go in yet – and because we had not eaten anything and were all hungry – we stopped at one of the palace cafés, where we had apple strudel, naturally. By the time we had finished it had approached eleven; it was time to enter the palace. As we walked up the main path towards the entrance we admired the beautiful exterior, stopping for several photo opportunities. Once we were in, however, it soon became apparent that the interior was the real beauty.

Upon entry we were faced with a grand staircase, enclosed by bright white walls that were dotted with portraits. The ceiling was the main sight though: a maginificent painting, comprising of many rich colours. From the stairs, we walked into the first of many rooms that we were able to explore. This room, as well as many of the others, was decorated with sparkling gold embellishments and each ceiling showcased a massive crystal chandelier. We explored many different types of room, including dressing rooms, dining rooms, the princesses’ day room and many, many sitting rooms, each decorated in different ways. Many walls held portraits of Maria Theresa and her children, whilst others displayed extravagant artworks. When we progressed through into the Grand Tour rooms, we also encountered rooms inspired by Chinese artwork and a room decorated entirely in black. To me, the most beautiful room was a large airy hallway, with multiple windows along both walls, glittering gold embellishments, lights and chandeliers and a massive painting on the ceiling. It was in this room that I was, unsurprisingly, told off for taking photos, after trying my luck too many times!

Whilst we had finished admiring the many rooms of the Schönbrunn Palace, we still had the gardens to explore. First stop though: lunch. Honestly though, our holiday is not revolving around food, which I appreciate is how this is starting to read. Or maybe it is… which is equally okay with me. For lunch I had a goat’s cheese salad (far from ideal for the lactose intolerant, but hey, turns out it’s easier to digest then cow’s cheese – read an article about it here). After lunch, we began to walk through the extensive gardens. There were many trees and fields, as expected of any vast garden, but the main showcase was at the back of the palace. Here, we discovered beautiful landscape gardens, shaped into neat square shapes adorned with multicoloured flowers and fountains. We sat in these gardens for a while, before travelling back to the hotel for a short touchdown to get out of the thirty degree heat.

***

When it was cooler, at around 5pm, we wandered to Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral), which is a pretty, gothic cathedral that was built in the 12th century. We took some photos of its exterior, before heading inside to look around. The interior looked much like all cathedrals do, with some beautiful stained glass and lots of candles. However, as it is a working church, unfortunately most of the cathedral was cordoned off, and thus our visit was short and sweet. Once we left Stephansdom, we headed off in pursuit of some dinner. After walking for ages we finally settled on a restaurant, where I had a meal of salmon and potatoes (aka the only thing on the menu that I could eat). After dinner we returned to our hotel as the sun was starting to set over Vienna once more.

Culture and Languages · Film and Television · History

Learning French… And Learning History 

Being mixed race, and having spent the largest part of my childhood living abroad as an expatriate, I have always regarded it as a great shame that English is the only language that I can speak. Yes, I can largely understand my mum’s language when she speaks it with my grandma, but I cannot speak it confidently. So, this summer, one of my aims is to improve my language skills. Having a French GCSE, French seemed to be the most accessible language to start with this summer, although I would like to gradually expand my list of languages over the years.

There are many positive testimonies to using television programmes and films to learn new languages and this is the approach that I am taking. Following a quick Google search, I became aware of a programme called Extra – a sitcom that is designed to teach students either French, German, Spanish or English. However, after watching four episodes of Extra, I concluded that I was not getting much from this show, as the level of French was appropriate to complete beginners, which I am not. And thank goodness I’m not – that would be a bit embarrassing after eight years of French lessons at school!

Deciding to move on from Extra, I noticed a French television show called Un Village Français. The description sounded amazing: a programme set in a Nazi occupied village of Frace, that promised to appeal to those with an interest in History. The French was described as being of an “intermediate” level and so I decided to give it a go.

Would this be the programme that propelled me straight to fluent French speaker standard? 

Possibly not. If there were no subtitles, I probably wouldn’t even be able to identify which words were the characters names.

However… I am not giving up on the belief that my French is improving, as I become increasingly exposed to the language and to the accent. Moreover, I have become almost immediately engrossed in the show itself. I have just finished Season One and cannot wait to begin Season Two. Each season, with the exception of the first two, follows one year of Nazi occupation, beginning with the Nazis’ arrival in the first episode. It addresses the impact of Nazi rule on civilian life in France and seeks to eradicate the common portrayal of “good” characters and “bad” characters, by blurring the lines between the two, as a result of the strain of the war.

By the end of the first episode of Un Village Français, I must admit that I found myself in tears. Whilst my mum has commented that this is more of a reflection on me than the show – and I’m not entirely disagreeing! – something must be said for a programme that has the capacity to create such emotional investment within just forty short minutes. So, whilst I can’t vouch for the show resulting in any improvement in my French, I can certainly say that I have found an incredibly captivating new show to binge watch. C’est fantastique! 🇫🇷

Culture and Languages · Experiences · Health and Food

Ramadan Reflections ☪

Provided that I have successfully figured out how to schedule blog posts and this publishes when I hope that it will, we will have just come to the end of the month of Ramadan. Unlike last year, when I was unfortunately unable to fast, this year I have been absolutely determined to do so. Thus, this Eid has approached with renewed importance, as it marks the end of the challenging, yet enormously rewarding, month.

So… my reflections as of Wednesday 21st June, aka the 26th fast, at 2:11 pm:

Hunger: The obvious starting point when it comes to everything to do with fasting. Well, I would love say that the hunger has decreased and that fasting has become second nature, but it wouldn’t be true. I have just calculated that there are seven hours (and eleven minutes) to go until iftar and, honestly, I’m instantly regretting have worked that out, because that is a LOT of time. Unlike in Bahrain, when fasts would finish at about 6pm, or in winter here, where I assume it is even earlier, during the long summer days sunset is not until well after 9pm. Hence, 16+ hour-long fasts and the fact that my stomach feels like it is going to implode!

Strength and perseverance: But, the amazing thing is that it won’t implode! Even on the longest day of the year (i.e. today… brilliant…) fasting is more than manageable. And, if it wasn’t, well then I would end my fast – just as I had to one day last week, due to a bad stomach ache.  Whilst it is important to push oneself, it is just as important to be sensible and know one’s own boundaries.  However, it is certainly nice to find out that your capacity is bigger than you think. As I was unable to fast last year, to say I was concerned about fasting this Ramadan would be an understatement. But here I am, almost at the end of the month, and I feel fine! Despite the undeniable hunger at the end of the day, half an hour into iftar this feeling is reduced to a distant memory. Thus, even when fasting has felt most difficult, being strong and persevering has never been in vain, and has only added to the sense of personal achievement.

Productivity and solitude: Admittedly, some days this month have been characterised by pure sluggishness, particularly in the hot weather. On the whole though, this month has been an opportunity to take time to do things that often get overlooked. For example, I have finished reading three books this month – The Bell Jar, Heart of Darkness and Sumitra’s Story – something that I have simply not been able to find the time to do during the busy academic year. However, almost on the opposite end of productivity and achieving things are those equally important moments of calm. Indeed, Ramadan has provided many such moments (particularly due to my whole family’s new tendency to nap of an afternoon). Without the constant buzz of the television or headphones in my ears, silence*, stillness and solitude has provided a welcome change from the chaos of day-to-day life. *Just a shame about next door’s building work really… win some lose some.

Challenge and achievement: Certainly, this has been a challenging month. More so than the absence of food, going hours without water during the hottest and longest days of the year has been particularly testing. However, for me personally, the biggest challenge that this month has brought is that of not knowing how to fill my time. Indeed, as well as not eating and drinking, I have also refrained from watching tv and listening to music during the daylight hours. As for socialising, even for things that I technically ‘could’ do, when you haven’t eaten for ten hours already, you don’t really want to do much more than lie on the sofa. But, this challenge has been important, as it has forced me to find other ways to fill my time; and it has also made me evaluate how much I tend to eat just for something to do, rather than out of actual hunger! Over all however, fasting this month – both of food and entertainment – has been a great personal achievement, and an undoubtedly rewarding experience.