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Archive for March, 2012

Two riders were approaching

March 28, 2012 1 comment

So, at the end of the day, I’m not going to stop riding the bike. What happened today just reinforced the first lesson and taught me the second. Despite what happened to me, I still think riding is incredibly worthwhile and rewarding.

The second lesson, which I learned in the minutes after I flew through the air, is to pick yourself up again, fix what you broke, and never quit. These are three separate manifestations of the same drive to never quit. There are times in life when you don’t have time to shut down and go to your happy place, usually when there are other people around you, waiting for you to act. Today was one of those days. Today was also they day that I learned that you can fix more things than you expect. And finally, I found myself overwhelmed with the urge to go back to driving my car and say “screw it” to this motorcycle shit. Doing that would actually be comparably easy, but that’s not the point. To borrow a better orator’s words, we don’t do these things because they are easy, but because they are hard. If I just quit today, I wouldn’t have been made a strong person for it, I just would have wasted a lot of money to discover that I would rather live meekly.

The first lesson, which I have come to learn over these past weeks of riding my motorcycle every day, is that sometimes you will never feel fully ready to do something, and you have to do it anyway. I found this especially true the first few times I set out on my bike. At the time, there were legal time constraints for when I had to have the bike inspected and tagged, so my I didn’t have the chance to wait to go riding until I felt perfectly prepared, which is the pattern in cases like this. That first street ride in particular was filled with self-doubt and hesitation. But I was lucky enough to have something force my hand and get me started. If not for that, I might have waited days or weeks before I realized I wasn’t going to get any more ready than I already was. And if you think I’m just making excuses for reckless behavior, I mentioned this lesson to an friend of mine with a family and kids, and he reflected to me that exactly the feeling I was describing was why he and his wife waited as long as they did to have children. They were waiting to feel prepared, and at some point had to come to the realization that the time wasn’t coming. They had to act. If motorcycles can save me years of waiting to do something in my life like that, that alone makes my decision to ride a profitable one.

Aside from a few scratches and bruises and some reparable damage to my motorcycle, I’m fine. What happened today was indirectly due to the first lesson that motorcycles taught me, and caused me to learn the second.

I had what motorcyclists call a “high side”, which is a particular kind of single-vehicle event where one of the two tires loses traction and the traction-less tire moves out of the plane of moevement (and the tire with traction). When the tire regains traction, it snaps amazingly quickly back in line, which can flip off an unsuspecting rider.

So, I crashed my motorcycle today.

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Austria, Day 6 and 7

March 13, 2012 Leave a comment

The last full day, Friday, Mandy took off work to tick off a few last items from the to-do list. The first was visiting the art history museum, which had an amazingly large collection. Where the Albertina art museum could dedicate basically all of its space to one exhibit, and they rotated, the art history museum just had multiple rooms full of pieces from each corner of the world and time period of art. It was honestly daunting.

And all of that was the static exhibit, with the big attraction being a showcase of the work of Gustav Klimt, an Austrian painter renown for leading a rebellion in Vienna against traditional art styles. But the amazing thing was that he had painted a series of murals in the museum that skillfully assumed the guise of virtually every major art style in history, from Egyptian to Byzantine to Renaissance to then-modern techniques. Clearly, he wasn’t going in a different direction because he couldn’t hack it as a painter in the traditional styles: he knew their intricacies and exactly how to dismantle them.

So, yeah, that was impressive.

We also hit up Cafe Sacher, the birthplace of Sachertorte, which is an awesome chocolate cake with frosting that is like harded dark chocolate. It’s not like the overly fluffy cake frostings that I find hard to eat, but just delicious. There was also Apfelstrudel, because I had to have it at least once.

Once more down Kärntner Straße, a major shopping avenue comparable to Mariahilferstrasse, and we headed to the grocery store to pick up some beer for the night. On the agenda was a fairly American, almost college student evening of cooking dinner, playing video games, drinking beer, and watching basketball. In this case, the games were, respectively, Red Dead Redemption and the NCSU vs Virginia game in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament. As many opportunities as there were in Vienna to do strange and foreign things, it was nice to have some time to do the normal stuff and relax.

Saturday, my alarm went off at 5am, we were at the U-bahn station by 5:30, and I easily caught the S-Bahn train, about a twenty minute ride, to the airport. Because she would have had to get another ticket and spend an hour round trip to ferry me to the flughafen, that’s where I parted ways with Mandy, my gracious host. The ride to the airport, the flight to Heathrow, and the layover there were uneventful and timely. The Heathrow to RDU flight tacked on an extra hour on the plane when they discovered a seat was broken, and a half hour after landing to make it through customs, making the last leg of the trip awfully long.

But I tell you what: it felt really good to get home, dump my luggage, and hop on my motorcycle and go for a ride over to a friend’s house to catch up.

I’m really glad I had the opportunity to go to Austria, and learned a lot about that country and myself. I especially learned how very crippled I feel when I don’t have a commanding grasp of the language… Even though I could probably have stuck it out and tried to decipher what was being said to me in German, I found myself frequently defaulting back to “Bitte, sprechen Sie Englisch?” It gives me a whole new appreciation for Mandy and how difficult it really must be to live that every day.

Not sure I could hack it.

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Austria, Days 4 and 5

March 8, 2012 1 comment

Wednesday was my day off. I ended up oversleeping and didn’t get up until 1:30, so I decided to say “screw it” and spend the day hanging out and tend to some business on the internet. Mostly trying to figure out who’s going to pick me up from the airport and buying some motorcycle parts so they’ll be there when I get home (shout out to motosliders.com).

As an excuse to get out of the apartment, I met Mandy, my host, at Neubaugasse to browse around Saturn, which is uncannily like Best Buy except everything is in German and Euros. That was interesting, but mostly in only so far as it was basically identical to a store you could find in the US, unless you include the massive vinyl selection.

And since I was way under budget for the day, I ended up saying we should get dinner out on me. Cultural learning-gram: in Viennese German, you say that you’re “inviting” someone to let them know that dinner is on you. I’m told it’s strange to be told at the end of the meal that you’re being invited to eat.

Today I hit up the Albertina art museum, more out of a sense of duty not to pass up a major Vienna attraction than any real interest in the art on display. In the last week or two, they’d switched over from a showcase of Magritte, one of the few artists that’s actually resonated with me, to an exhibit on impressionism, the beauty of which was largely lost on me. Actually, the piece that ended up sticking with me most was one of Seurat’s conté crayon sketches that is just black crayon and white paper and essentially a tour de force in negative space.

Yeah, I went to an exhibit about the bright colors and extemporaneous stylings of the impressionists and liked what amounted to a charcoal sketch. Apparently I don’t follow directions well.

Somewhat unfortunately, my €8 ticket only got me about two hours of wondering around looking at art. I only say “somewhat”, because that ended up meaning I was able to hit up the Albertina Würstelstand (the same one from Sunday) before I was deathly starving. The Austrian beer continues to be nothing special on its own and absolutely awesome when eaten with meaty foods.

With time left in the afternoon, I took the U-bahn one stop over to Stephansplatz and came out right in front of my goal, Stephansdom. I was awed by the massive scale of the stonework and craftsmanship strolling by it earlier in the week, so I wanted to come by for a closer look at the cathedral that Wikipedia tells me is almost a millenium old. Except that’s actually the rub for me: it was almost painful to visit this very old historical behemoth and see that they had drilled in to some of the centuries-old wood to attach an HDTV mount. Or to stand in the overpriced gift shop crammed in a tiny cloister.

The whole experience was the sole time I’ve felt like I’d narrowly avoided a tourist trap during my time in the city. For example, I decided the €4.5 to go to the top of the belltower and “see Vienna from above” wasn’t quite worth it, especially after I later learned from Mandy that that fee only buys you admission to climb the stairs. The elevator is extra. No thanks.

Tonight ended up being a simple eat-in kinda night, munching on pizza while I streamed the NCSU vs Boston College men’s basketball game from the first round of the ACC tournament. I’m not actually that devoted of a basketball fan, but it was really damn cool to be able to stream the game and watch it from another continent. Plus it was good to actually watch a game where we won. Through some strange coincidence, every other game I’d seen the Wolfpack play this season had been a loss.

Tomorrow’s my last day in the city (my flight leaves “stupid early”, as Mandy puts it), so she’s taking the day off and we’ll wrap things up.

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Austria, Days 2 and 3

March 6, 2012 1 comment

Make sure to check Facebook for the pictures I’m taking here.

Yesterday was our shopping day. Picking up some new rugs for Mandy, my host, to put in her new apartment. The expensive housewares store (Leiner) had some bargains in the basement. Yeah, we bought bulky carpets at our first stop. Lesson learned.

Then I got the runaround trying to get a prepaid SIM for my phone so that I could call and text Mandy. I’m not sure the fee structure long-term, but it was €10 for the SIM, and €10 for 1000 texts and a 1000 minutes, and I think €10 any time I want to refresh those numbers to 1000. I’m impressed. Of course, I had to spend three hours when I got home SIM unlocking my phone (turns out the phone’s unlock code and PUK are not the same thing…) but thanks to some Android savvy, I finally got it to work. Now I just have to figure out what the rapidfire German recorded message I hear whenever I call someone is saying in.

Then on to a book store. All of these were along Mariahilferstrasse, which kinda reminds me of Times Square if it was a street. Lots of high fashion and shopping. And a sidewalk on each side wider than the two lane road.

We swung by the apartment to drop off the many bags of stuff before we hit up Billa, the grocery store, for dinner. It was packed, with narrow lanes and tall shelves, and fewer choices for things, but still covering what seemed like 90% of the selection of an American grocery. I mean, have you been to the aisle in Food Lion that is a hundred feet of shelf space dedicated to paper towels? A bit much, yeah. Also, like before, if you can’t carry it, don’t buy it.

Today was mostly just a lazy day while Mandy went to work (one of has to!). I did take the ten minute U-bahn ride plus mile walk to the Austrian military history museum, which was a good use of the afternoon–pictures are on Facebook. The headline exhibit is the gun that shot Franz Ferdinand plus the uniform he was wearing at the time and the car he was riding in. I have to admit, the car was pretty cool, and actually helped me picture the scene in 1914 Sarajevo.

I ended up spending most of my time looking at the guns on exhibit. Since the museum spans from the Thirty Years’ War to WWII, it actually covers almost the entire history of firearms, and was a neat way to follow their development. It was interesting to note, for example, the development of the rear sight on rifles, which was lined up with the front sight post–present from the beginning–to get an order of magnitude more accuracy. Or looking at early auto-loading pistols when they were still fed from clips that filled the gun’s internal magazine, instead of using detachable magazines like all modern handguns.

I also enjoyed, in the WWII wing, seeing some kooky war machines that I’d only seen in video games before, like the Kettenkrad, a weird cross between a half-track troop transport and a motorcycle.

Dinner this evening was at the best Mexican restaurant in Vienna, which isn’t saying much. The Jalapeno poppers had some kind of red pepper in them (fully ripe Jalapenos, or something else?) and the quesadilla was served with feta crumbles. It was a slightly surreal experience, but definitely a good dinner, if only because they had honest to go Corona, which is exactly what I need when it’s 1 degree Celsius outside.

I’m trying to finish reading Too Big To Fail so I can leave it with Mandy, but if I make good progress on that tonight, I’ll break out my German dictionary and German copy of The Hunger Games and stumble my way through another page or two.

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Austria, Day 0 and 1

March 4, 2012 1 comment

So I’m going to Vienna for a week, right? Cool.

My flight over left Friday evening, with a four hour layover in London (Heathrow), which meant that my first flight consisted entirely of Americans going on vacation and British businessmen flying home. I found myself sitting next to and chatting with a few, which was interesting. We ended up talking more about business than national cultures or anything like that.

The only time we hit the language barrier was when one of them asked if I’d “brought any sterling?” It took me a second to realize he was talking about money, not, say, silverware. Also, when I woke the guy next to me up on the plane by setting his breakfast down on his tray and he said “Ah, cheers!” I like the use of that word as an enthusiastic thanks, a rough equivalent to “sweet, thanks!” I might try to adopt it if I thought it would be understood.

Heathrow’s Terminal 3 had a staggering miniature shopping center for duty free goods, a Starbucks, and like three places to eat. Sharp contrast to the handful of American airports I’ve been to which have as many restaurants as anything else. I was amused by the directness of the restaurant called EAT. there, but the food was meh and would have been decently priced in dollars instead of “Sterling.”

As soon as I headed to the gate for the flight to Austria, the background chatter switched almost abruptly from British English to German, which was fun to try and catch pieces of. Until the group of twenty or so US high school boys on some kind of trip showed up, and I began to understand the Loud American stereotype. I’m not sure if it would have been better if some of the Austrians could understand them, because their conversation was the most banal speech I’ve heard since… uh.. since I graduated high school. Three of them sat behind me and there was a noisy baby in the next row up, which almost made this flight worse than my first, except for my window seat.

England, the Channel, and coastal France were (quelle surprise) covered in clouds, so I mercifully dozed off until shortly before landing, bringing my total sleep for the trip to about 4 hours including a nap in Heathrow. That made taking off at 6pm Friday and landing at 2pm Saturday interesting. With some Austrian coffee, I was able to stay up until 10pm, so I’m not really worried about jet lag on this leg of the trip.

That first day in Austria was mostly familiarization. The U-Bahn, cafes, the grocery store, restaurants, shops.

The grocery, Merkur, with its small package sizes and lack of carts–just baskets!–combined with being accessible from the U-Bahn without going topside speaks volumes about modern Viennese life in the city. Also, bring a bag, because they don’t even have any for sale. If you can’t carry it, don’t buy it.

I’m amused by the fact that most places have only two or three beers on tap, with the nicer restaurant (€35 for two) where we ate dinner having just one. You just pick whether you want a small, medium, or large (.2, .3, or .5 liters respectively). The thing I couldn’t really appreciate about German beer drinking it at home is that it is, compared to American craft beers, very understated, but goes amazingly well food. I’m not kidding when I say that the best beer I’ve had in a long time was the one with lunch today from a Würstelstand. (In fact, the very Würstelstand pictured in that article.) I could eat there quite happily for many days, and I may end up doing just that.

My payload of barbeque sauce, Triscuits, and other American delicacies was well received by my host, who said she’d take it in return for crashing at her place for the week. I think I got a deal.

The most culturally stark moment of the day was browsing a flea market this morning, there was a box of papers belonging to an Captain (Hauptmann) in the Wehrmacht, dated between 1925 and 1943. One is stamped with the Nazi Reichsadler, another is was titled “Mitteilung für Offizierkorps” (a newsletter for officers), and a third was signed “gute besserung und Heil Hitler!” (get well soon and… you know the rest). We wanted to buy some of it, but it seemed like being so eager to learn about this stuff would come across culturally wrong. Maybe next week.

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