Monday, 30 January 2017

Six Months later, doesn't time fly?

It's been six months to the day since we loaded up that stupid van and left the UK for good. It seems like so long ago and so much has happened since then. Knowing where to begin is a problem. ITs been a problem for awhile. This is the third blog post I've sat down to write in the last few months. with the first two, it seemed difficult to really get a theme going. Much of that probably has to do with moving. Its mot easy getting settled in. Life becomes staggered as one thing or another needs sorting before you can really feel at home. So what's gone on.

Cometh the hour, Cometh the Jodie.

Late August brought with it an angel of a sort, in the form of our good friend, Jodie Gibson. Jodie is one of the nicest people you'll ever meet. Ridiculously talented, as a Singer, musician, make up artist, regular artist, and a host of other skills she effortlessly excels at, Jodie is that one friend that everyone should have. Jodie, being a bit of a free spirit, happened to buy herself a nice new transit style van, and, as part of a little tour around Europe in said van, offered to load up the van with some of our forgotten crap. She really is brilliant. After three days and selection of colourful stories later (including a trip to Frankfurt's red light district!) she arrived with a second load of furniture for us. She stayed for three days, we had a blast before she headed off to Budapest, then to Italy via Slovakia. We're forever grateful to her and she really is one in a million.

Summer heat

Summer seemed to last a very long time here. Even at the end of September, we were experiencing temperatures in the high 20's. Summer also brought with it some good news. At the end of August, Lynda began the search for work. She'd seen a job advertised on a website that had her interest, but after emailing them, she heard nothing. teaching for the listing again, she stumbled across a second job listed that she hadn't seen. Within a week of seeing this job, she had an interview and got accepted. Job sorted in less than a week. Lynda found herself working for Kidsco, company who teach kids english from Kindergarten up. She had to work freelance, was allowed to 'go outside the lines' to teach and lots of other things. In short, it was the perfect job, almost identical to what she did in the UK. The job suited her so well, that after two months, she was offered a full-time contract, with all the protections and benefits that entails.

Old friends and new. 

A New job, New city and new home will inevitably lead to new friends. Thats the hope at any rate. Whilst making an Austrian friend can be seen as difficult, The ExPat community is often full of new friends just waiting to be met. For Lynda, Her new job threw her together with bunch of English speakers, all starting at the same time. A new Australian colleague would go on to have a huge impact on both of our lives. More on him later.

The Vienna Expats website ( is a great site that offers plenty of articles and a forum to help out new and old arrivals. It also has plenty of get togethers all over Vienna, at least bi monthly, often more. Site Admin, Michael is great guy, who enjoys a pint and a good chat. If you get a chance to attend one of these get togethers do. We went to one around Christmas time and it as a great night out.

Family and Christmas time. 

In Mid November, Lynda's family visited our new home. Included in that family was Lynda's Brother, who at the age of 56, was taking his first flight and first trip abroad. Having family over is a lot different than having friends visit. Lynda's Mother took up residence with ease and soon became a familiar fixture in the apartment. the local bar, the Cafe frog cocktail bar also took a battering. The staff now wave at us as we pass. So I guess they've gotten use to us then.
Christmas was a little different, but in a good way. there's no getting away from the fact that things are different. It was our first Christmas not spent in the UK. hoping to get in the swing of things, we adopted a few new traditions, Like Stollen cake, Panettoni and a few other bits and pieces. We missed out on Advent crowns, avoided the Glugwein and forgot about more that few other things, but all in all, we had a great Christmas.

Unexpected opportunities. 

Into the new year, and things began to take an unexpected turn. That new Friend of Lynda's, a boisterous Australian called Ian, well he's fun to be around. He and his Husband found themselves in Vienna and, as was Ian's nature, he got involved with the local LGBTIQ groups, dealing with the pride parade in June, just before we arrived. Now Ian is a fantastic guy and he loves nothing better than hosting a party. I got introduced to him by Lynda at just such a get together. By our second party at Ian and Adrian's, I find myself being hunted down. Three months later and I'm now on the Board of Directors for Europride Vienna 2019. Europride takes place every year in a different host city. Vienna Bid for and was awarded the event. Ian, as luck would have it, was offered the job of managing the event. Its a job he's use to in his Native Canberra. I get to help put on the biggest party in Vienna, and that's not bad. Oh and I'm also one of the poster girls for the whole thing. See things got weird. Just this weekend both of us attended the Rainbow Ball. Attending any Ball is an experience, Attending a LGBTIQ ball is simply The Event. Nothing covers it better than enjoying a beer at two in the morning next to Austria's very own Conchita Wurst. Life has definitely become strange.

More to come?

Its amazing what can happen in just Six months. We're now settled in to Vienna and the Viennese lifestyle. I recently grumbled very loudly that the next U-bahn was in 5 minutes! What's clear is that the fun is just beginning. Vienna is now our home, now if I could just get the hang of the German.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Hell hath no fury like a girl in a van.

Packing day.

'Hell is other people' said Satre. He was wrong. I know because I've taken time out this week to vacation in Hell. As you'd expect, it was to warm, and bit annoying and by the end of my time there, psychologically disturbing. The story begins, as they often do, with us both filled with optimism, last Saturday morning. 

Saturday the 30th of July. 

Saturday morning we headed off to Cardiff to pick up the van. The sun was shining and the day was filled with promise. The van was new, though the tyres had seen better days. Still, the pick up was easy and we drove it back to begin loading. And that's where it started to go wrong. It was clear the van type we'd picked up was to small. Instead of packing everything we own into the van, it became a battle to pack what we needed in and squeeze what extras we could. The van place was closed so returning the van for a larger one wasn't an option. The stress levels were high to say the least. Thank god we had the services of Lynda's brother and good friend Donna Hardman. Between the two of them, they packed that van so full, that closing the doors was a three man job. A single, solid block of stuff was the best way to describe it. 

By 16.30, it was time to leave. We were to tired for tearful goodbyes, hungry beyond belief and ready to get on the road. Geri settled in to his seat. I would spend the next three days worrying about the little parrot, who spent three days not caring a jot. So much for parrots being fragile creatures who dislike change. 
We grabbed food at a service stop, enjoying the first of many, many fast food delights. The four hour plus drive was kind of welcomed though, giving both Lynda and I a chance to sit down after all the hassle. 
Our hotel for the night was the expensive, but pet friendly Holiday Inn express, just a stones throw from the channel tunnel. Geri was treated like royalty wherever we went, and settled into the room with ease. A shower and some sleep did wonders.

Geri settling in at the Holiday inn express.

Sunday July 31st. 

It's a gentle start to Sunday. Our train isn't due out until 11.50, and despite warnings of delays due to security checks, we don't have to leave the hotel until well after 10 in the morning. So a random breakfast of sausages and scrambled eggs (it's a free breakfast from the hotel, but why just sausages and scrambled eggs as the hot option?) Anyhoo, with breakfast done, we load up Geri into the van and go to check in for the crossing. Luck was on our side as on arrival, we're immediately directed to the next train. It saved us 14 minutes, but when you have 350 miles to cover that day, you'll take it. The main worry was that they'd like to check the back of the van. Anyone opening the rear doors could find themselves under a deluge of parrot cages, toiletries and soft furnishings. Fortunately, we were left alone. 

Good luck and an earlier train.

We hit France by 1.15 and apart for a small stop for breathalysers and some hi visibility vests. (We had them already, but they had been packed into the back). The day was dry and warm and pretty soon we were clear of France and into Belgium. Brussels offered our first real stop. It was also the last time we felt, let's say contented. From Brussels it was a very long run to reach Germany and Colonge. The stretch from Brussels to the German border was, without a doubt the most boring stretch of motorway in the world. Monotony was creeping in and as Lynda nodded off, I became bored. Fuel was needed just as we crossed into Germany, allowing us a chance to brighten up. 

We may be brightening up, but the weather is turning decidedly poor. Rain falls just after Cologne and those tyres I had concerns about now threaten to kill us. The van begins Aquaplaning around and I have to keep off the throttle to maintain control. The showers are short but my mood has soured. The pleasant run has become a torturous ordeal and tiredness begins to creep in.  Approaching Frankfurt, all I can think about is food and a lie down. We arrive at our overnight at the NH Frankfurt Neiderrad. Annoyingly I can't park the van in the hotel car park. It's to big (oh the irony) soothe van gets parked across the road. 

Meanwhile, Geri is getting the star treatment as the staff come out to fuss over him. He as before, seems unruffled. We settle in with Grill Den Hensller and a little room service. 

Monday August 1st.

It's early. 6 AM to be precise and while Geri sleeps, we head off for a breakfast neither of us really wants. There's plenty of choice, but this early, the idea of eating anything is just not on. We struggle on though but it's 7.50 before we hit the road on the longest stretch of the whole three days. It's a whooping 450 miles to Vienna. We're hoping to get there by three that afternoon. Our first stop comes around Nuremberg. It's a nice day and the temperature is slowly rising. For now a cold coffee drink and a snack will do.

Nuremberg and our first stop. 

The next stop comes two hours later at Passau. This is the exciting moment. From here we cross the border into Austria. We buy the Vignette for the van and head off on the last leg. Despite the early start, we feel good. With just an hour or so left to travel, I add a little extra fuel near St. Pölten and a little extra iced coffee to me. We're all feeling the strain, especially Geri who desperately wants a nap, but is to stubborn to take it. 

With everything fuelled we push on and soon enough, we come over the brow of a hill and Vienna opens up before us. From there we pass Vösendorf and head into the city, leaving the motorway at Favoriten and arriving at our new home just before 5pm

Vienna ahead.

If we've had a rough trip though, we need to spare a thought for Donna and Aimee. They flew out to help us unload the van and then enjoy the city for the week. They're flight should have gotten them to the city by midday. However, as we're cresting the hill, they're still at Vienna airport, waiting for luggage that may never come. They're flight went tech in the morning, turning back to Vienna before reaching Heathrow. Austrian put them onboard a flight to Berlin and then from Berlin to Vienna. Arriving at Berlin, Donna and Aimee discover a hot mess as the airport is filled with disgruntled passengers from all over, a baggage system on the blink and staff that are overtaxed and underpaid for the situation they currently face. They almost miss they're connecting flight after the counter staff fail to issue fresh boarding passes. They do make it to Vienna in the end, they're bags though are lost at either London, Berlin or some other part of the network. They make it to the apartment just 5 minutes before us. 

Unloading the Van takes longer than expected, but by 8 that night,I just need to take he van to a car park and crawl into a dry martini (or large glas of wine as was the case.) finding a Car park to take a van was difficult, but we got there in the end. 

Tuesday August 2nd. 

Building furniture is the rule for the day whilst Lynda, Donna and Aimee fill the cupboards and get settled. Two bookcases later and in the heat of the afternoon I begin to wilt. There are other issues at play. Firstly, the van tyres are screwed. I'm rather annoyed about this as they should have been changed before we picked them up. The passenger tyre is illegal and the driver side one is on the edge. Fortunately, there's a Hertz rental place just up the road and fix the issue for free. Finally I have to go to IKEA in Vösendorf to replace our mattress. The summer heat and a lack of energy take they're toll on me, and I'm sat in IKEA, eating a snack to boost my energy levels, hoping it'll help. 

Wednesday August 3rd. 

It's time to hit the road by myself and return the van to the UK. I hit the road just after 10.30am and hope the day will be ok. Surprisingly it is. I stop at Linz for a quick break and again at Nuremberg. By Nuremberg I'm feeling tired, but still on it, reaching my hotel by 19.00 and checking in at Frankfurt for a nights sleep. I'm surprised how well that 450 miles went. 

Thursday August 4th

Today is not going to be a good day. Stomach issues wake me 15 minutes before my alarm, which was already set for 6AM. I have to get all the way back to the Welsh Valley's today, 600+ miles away. Doing the same trip in two days rather than the three days it took to get to Vienna seemed like a good idea. It also saved money on van rental and a cheaper return on the Eurotunnel service. A quick breakfast and I hit the road at 6.30am, Calais bound. My train is set to leave at 14.50, but with clear traffic I could arrive at Calais and grab an earlier service. The kilometres drift away and I stop for my final fuel stop just after Colonge. I arrive at my second and last stop before the tunnel just after Brussels. Tiredness is kicking in and my stomach issue from earlier that day is rearing its ugly head again. More coffee and food perks me back up and I hit the road for the last stretch of Europe, straight into a massive hour long tailback. It's a disaster. Google rerouted me but having followed its instructions, I arrive at a junction that's closed and I'm stuck in a small town with traffic backing up and a sense of panic. I'm really tired and stumped. A toilet and food break helps me feel better, but this delay has cost me dearly. Switching to a different GPS app, I'm re-rerouted around the issue and I'm back on my way to Calais. My mood is black though. All the heavy lifting and exhaustion that's been building since Saturday is hitting me all at once. By the time I hit Calais, I'm a hour late. With the van loaded, I grab a nap.

Back in the uk, I have just 250 miles left to cover, but psychologically, I'm spent. I leave Folkestone like a cat on fire and make for th M25 and then the M4. It's rush hour though, slowing my progress and really hitting me hard. I'm tired, emotional and very lonely. I get routed through Bracknell which is hell and by the time I reach the M4, I'm on the point of crying. I make it to my final service station stop in emotional pieces. It's clear I need sleep, and I defiantly need food. The food helps as does my fifth coffee of the day, and with less than a two run ahead, I focus like a laser beam and battle in through. I reach our old home by 8pm uk time, having spent 14 hours and 30 minutes on the road that day. With the van parked and unloaded, I burst into tears. I collect a few things up I need to take back tomorrow, but after so much caffeine, any heavy lifting brings in chest pains. I eat some food, greet my mother in law when she gets home before crawling off to bed at 22.30. 

Friday August 5th 

My stomach once again wakes me early and I find myself up an hour and a half earlier than I wanted to be. I don't mind to much, as it allows me a chance to pack up a few requested items that didn't make it on the Saturday. At 8am I bid fairwell to the place I called home for 19 years. The Welsh weather does little to make me feel upset, settling on fog to see me off. It's summer. 

Yes it's summer, honest!

I wince as I jump Ito the van for the last time. Yesterday's drive has scarred me and I sure as hell won't miss driving. The van drop off goes well and I'm left with a suitcase, handluggage and a handbag to drag to the train station. And drag it I do. Cardiff's pavements aren't the smoothest in the world. The train station has no lift, which is great. Wales is not really tugging at the heartstrings this morning. 

Grangetown train station at rush hour.

I arrive at Cardiff central only to be stuck behind a malfunctioning ticket barrier. Sigh. I need tea. I head to my favourite tea place in Cardiff, the John Lewis department store. It's just opened but annoyingly, the cafe is closed for refurbishment. I sense a pattern forming for the day. I end up in Costa, drinking tea and having a blueberry muffin. Then it's time to head to the bus stop for my bus to Bristol airport. Whilst I wait, with Cardiff castle behind me, I'm surrounded by American tourist, all of whom seem intent on finding somewhere that sells Dr. Pepper. It amuses me. The bus arrives on time, the drivers a grumpy git, just like my dad was. The journey was fine and we arrive at Bristol on time. Check in was quick and I'm through security with ease. All the omens of doom seem to be clearing. The flight is on time, I have a chance for a quick bite. I board on time and settle into my seat at the front. Then the delays hit. There's a ground stop due to weather at destination push we need to wait for some elderly passengers to get onboard. We eventually depart 15 minutes behind time, but the captain reassures us we'll make it up thanks to a kick ass tailwind and clear skies. 

Our route takes me directly over Brussels and Frankfurt, and what took me 14 plus hours yesterday today passes in just over 1 hour. It's the most direct evidence of how small the world has becom thanks to jets. I watch a film on my iPad whilst the smooth air turns decidedly lumpy. Soon enough though We begin our descent into Vienna. It's already going wrong and we're given a runway change. That means more minutes in the air as ATC reshuffle the deck to the new runway. Never the less, we line up for approach onto 29. A few miles out though and the power comes on and we climb back into the air. It's a go around. A storm has just settled over the airport, and we need time to let it clear. 15 minutes later, we land without incident. The runway is clear and we taxi to our stand. A further delay happens as ground crew are not permitted on the apron in thunderstorms, so we sit for a further 5 minutes next to our gate, unable to park. I chat to the cabin crew and soon enough, we're on stand and I'm off. Knowing the airport layout better than the other passengers (having been though it more than a few times lately.) I'm through passport control and at the baggage carousel before the others find their way. I'm so quick I beat the luggage by 10 minutes. Bags sorted, I find Lynda in arrivals, give her the biggest hug I can manage and go home. 

The aftermath. 

Having spent nearly a week constantly travelling, it spend the weekend at the apartment building more furniture, unpacking and recovering. The rest of the stuff in Wales will arrive at the end of the month, thanks to a great friend and a bit of luck. What I learnt from all of this is two things. One, always go for the biggest van you can find, and more importantly, next time, hire a company to do the job for you. The extra cost is more than worth it. Now however, I live in Vienna,many that's awesome. Two girls and a parrots not so impossible dream came true. :)

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Running on empty, except for the cardboard.

To describe the last two weeks as 'frantic' would be an understatement. Exhaustion is a constant friend and we've both developed a deep loathing of the cardboard box. We left the UK on the 17th of July for Vienna. The day ran smoothly, with connecting flights working perfectly and an on time arrival at Vienna. The only problem we hit was leaving our luggage at Vienna airport. The one counter was full, so we had to use an alternate. Small issues really. We caught a train into the centre, enjoying a lunch at the station, then we checked in to our hotel for the night. Weirdly, this is the last hotel we'll ever stay at in Vienna. The NH Wien Belvedere was chosen partly in price but mostly because it had a very good noodle shack nearby. Seriously, the noodles served up at Rennweg are delicious. With a carton of noodles and a view out into the Belevedere gardens, we settled in for the evening watching a newly discovered show on Pro 7, Grill Den Hennsler. For Brits, this is a mix between 'masterchef'and 'it's a knockout.' Fun stuff. 

The next morning, with a cup of tea and a few Manner biscuits. (Love those things) and we set off to meet Wolfgang, our tame Makler, to meet the other Makler and sign the paperwork. After all the fuss and fighting to get out chosen apartment, the final signing was remarkably easy. In just 45 minutes, we'd signed the contracts, paid the deposit, paid Remax and we were presented with the keys. Then we took the cemetery tram (yes I live on the 71 line that leads directly to Vienna's central Cemetery.) and we chatted with Wolfgang as we traveled. From his point of view, he was happy to see us in our new place, but his commission was, well very sad. With our deposit paid, the Makler fee was around €1400, which was then split between Remax and the other firm. So out of the €700 left, Wolfgang got just about €140! For that €140, he's helped set up our electricity supplier (a good deal of which I'm sure he'll get commission for the recommendation.) sorted out the apartment viewings and dealt with the negotiations with the apartment landlord. He went above and beyond, and even further, as I'll come to later. Anyway, with the keys in hand, we set foot in our new home. Home is now Kobelgasse 7 , Wien. We checked the place over, detailed with Wolfgang any floors in the paintwork, fixtures and fittings. Then it was time for Wolfgang to leave, and for us to start a new life. The man from the electric board was due that day to switch on the electric, so one of us would have to wait in for him to do his job. We both figured we had time to grab a bite from the Bakery across the road. With a bite to eat sorted, it was time to bring the place to life. My job was to fetch the cases from the airport. Lynda sat in waiting for the electric man, I headed out, deciding to take a stroll through the cemetery to a nearby station to the Airport. The whole trip to the airport and back took around two hours, but I got the heavy cases back to the apartment. Wilting in the heat, Lynda got us two ice cold beers from a local shop, and damn was it needed. We took our stuff and filled the very empty apartment up with traces of us. 
It was a nice moment. What was becoming clear though was that the Elelctic man wasn't coming. Wolfgang told us to drop him a line if we still had no electric after 3pm. We did, and bless him, he came down after work to rig the electric for us. The apartment has three main fuses, but we only had two. That meant the fridge and hob worked, but not the dishwasher or oven. Plus half the sockets in the apartment worked, the other half didn't. We coped though. With partial power restored, Wolfgang apologised for the electric board. He was not happy and promised to get to the bottom of it in the morning. 

With time getting on, we had just enough time to pop out to a local Mömax to pick up simple essentials, like a lamp for light, a few basic plates and even some pillows to put on the inflatable mattress. Then all we had left to do was to pick up our hand luggage from the hotel. They had a facility to leave our hand luggage there. It was gone 7 by the time we got back, hot, very tired and hungry. We managed to drag ourselves out to the local Chinese takeaway, enjoying our first warm meal in our new home, sat on an inflatable matress with a laptop and the first season of House M.D to enjoy. 

The rest of the week was a constant feeling of running. A trip to ikea on the Tuesday revealed a huge difference when ordering in a big city versus the Welsh valley's. With our new bed and other furniture paid for, we headed for the delivery area, expecting to see the new stuff in the morning. Instead we were told the new kit would arrive anytime after two. This was and 12.45. Time to get running again. We made it, and Wolfgang also came by on his way home (he lives in the 21st district, which is definitely NOT on the way home from the 11th. He brought with him new fuses, fixing the last of the electricity issues. He mentioned that the electric man had two jobs at our building on the books, one at ours, and one at the Kindergaten that sits under part of our building. The Kindergaten was closed until the 3rd of August. Confusing the two jobs for one, he left to return on the 3rd. Wolfgang has told them he's sorted the issue, but who knows, the man may still come.  

By the Friday and time to return to the UK, the apartment is doing ok. Now the battle is on to get the rest of our stuff across the channel this weekend. Exhausted isn't the right word, as come next week, I may declare myself legally dead, just for rest. After all, it's only a 2200 mile round trip. :) 


Saturday, 16 July 2016

The wild blue yonder

It's a Saturday night. In two weeks we head out in a van, crossing the continent in three days. Two girls, one parrot, little sleep. But that's for the future. In the present, well, it's Saturday night, I'm sat in a hotel bed, next to the UK's biggest airport. Tomorrow we fly out to Vienna. Moving day just came early. 

Monday's are fun days. 

Last month, we headed to Vienna to do a little apartment hunting. A week of looking around at various places. And we found a place. I won't go into details now, mostly because I want to cover the whole process in another post, hopefully once we have the keys to our new place. What I will say is it negotiating the lease took patience and caused a lot of stress. However, Monday, glorious Monday, hopefully marks the completion of the contracts, and by Monday afternoon we'll have the keys to our own place. And it can't come soon enough. 

Prepacking for action. 

When we planned the move, we expected, perhaps naively, to pick up the keys on the day we arrive with our stuff. What's actually happened is that we needed to find an extra trip to Vienna to sign the paperwork, take possession and relax in the peace and quiet of our new place. It's actually worked out well. We've booked a few days in the city, allowing us time to go to Ikea and Mömax to get the bits of furniture we planned on buying once there. Things like a bed, TV Unit and sofa's will all arrive next week, get set up and will be waiting for us in two weeks when we arrive with the rest of the stuff. We'll also get the cupboards filled with groceries so there's food when we get there. Plus we'll have the electric sorted (thanks Wolfgang) and we hope to get UPC cable and Internet hooked up as well. The last thing we'll do is file our residency paperwork, before we head back to the U.K. To finish packing. Gulp! 

Buying stuff in Vienna is all well and good, but Monday night we'll probably find ourselves on an inflatable mattress. So with Lufthansa now offering flights where you can pay to take lugguge one way, we've loaded up two suitcases, filled with little bits and pieces, all to help our new home, feel like home. So there's a kettle, cutlery, curtains, blankets towels and a host of other things to fill up the blank spaces. Come Friday, we leave the suitcases there and travel back with hand luggage only. It's exciting stuff. And damn well nerve racking. It's also fun.  

Friday, 24 June 2016

May you live in interesting times.

So, the die is cast, and the result is a massive blow to the EU. At 04.40 this morning, the BBC called the referendum for the leave campaign. In truth, we knew it was heading that way as early at 12.30 that evening. The simple truth is, remain didn't get enough votes where they needed it. For the first time in 40 years, we find ourselves outside, looking in. 

There's no two ways about it, we're disappointed. We'll still move, but the future will be less certain. Under EU law, article 50, the official procedure to leave the EU, once it's invoked, we'll have two years to sort out everything before the strings are cut and the U.K. Is free from Europe's grasp. The situation with 2 million expats living and working in the EU will have to be sorted out by then. 

It's not all bad news it seems. Amazingly we secured our new apartment this morning. So we have a home, hopefully forever. 

The future isn't going to be decided today, but one thing is certain, as the old Chinese curse states, 'may we live in interesting times'

No shit Sherlock.  

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

The Final Countdown.

So it's come to this. It's Wednesday the 22nd of June and in less than 24 hour, the polls open on the most important vote in British history. Tomorrow the country votes to decide if we stay part of the EU or not. A vote to leave will cause issues for several years, from Expats abroad to the rise of the right wing in Germany, Austria and other countries. Markets will stumble, and with uncertainty, there's sure to be a few wobbles on the UK stock market. For us, it could spell the end of our dream.

The biggest issue however, isn't the possibility of us leaving the EU. No, our main worry should be how a country that's been so decided during this referendum, will put itself back together after the vote has passed. The level of hate between the camps has been growing for the last three months, fed by a diet of tabloid outrage and politicians keen to press their beliefs on the public at large. Lies, fear and exaggeration have been the hallmarks of a dirty campaign from both sides.

Remains of the Day.

The remain side should have had the easier job. Tell the people the truth. Explain it clearly and make a positive case to stay. Instead We've had reports that have been blown out of proportion. 'You'll be £4000+ a year worse off if we leave.' comes the cry. 'GDP with fall, we'll hit a recession' and more have befallen the remain camps calls to arms. They've called for everything it seems including a plague of locusts. Well almost. The spectre of all out war in Europe even raised its ugly head. No, Instead of laying out the facts in an ordered way, Like only 13% or so of EU laws actually affect the UK, instead of the much reported 60%. But no. Its become a case of Chicken little screaming the sky is falling. That said, in all that exaggeration, there's a grain of truth. From the IMF to the IFS, the experts all agree that we'd be worse off if we left, its just the figures that are the issue.

BeLEAVE what you want.

If the remain campaign can be excused of exaggerating, the Leave campaign can be accused of living in their own little fantasy world. In this magical world, experts are to be dismissed as no nothings fools all in the pay of the EU. 'I think the UK public has had enough of experts' Leave Co chair Michael Gove has said. Ignoring the advice of the worlds economists is par for the course. Economics forecasting is mere voodoo, except when its their own economics professors of course. Then, the advice from but a handful of dissenting experts is to be taken seriously. Professor Minford, Vote Leave's tame expert has his own model of the economy post Brexit that shows how we'll be better off with free trade deals for all. He also says that our manufacturing sector would be all but gone and the economy would be run on the Service and high tech industries. So much for the steel industry then. Besides, who's reading that far into his report?

The economy was going to be a hards sell for the Leave guys. Just last week, we had the official unemployment figures. Unemployment is currently at its lowest level since 2005. Our economy is growing too! In fact  Leave are constantly telling us how great our economy is, that's why we have so many EU immigrants arriving here. Bear in mind however, that the rallying call against the EU is that its over bureaucratic, With so many rules and regulations that we're drowning under the weight. obviously their missing the obvious fact that if we are the best economy in the EU, then we must be doing ok within those pesky rules.  Oh and we're one of the most regulation free countries in Europe as well. hmmmmm.

Project Fear.

The favourite cry from those on the leave side is that the Remainers are pushing 'Project Fear', a term first appearing in in the Scottish referendum where the Remain side pushed the negative aspects of breaking up a 300 year union. They may have a point. As I pointed out earlier, everything including a plague of locusts and famine has seemingly been claimed to happen if we leave. And if Vote Leave had left it at that, I'd have said 'I disagree, but ok.' But this constant cry of 'Project fear' is set against the Leave sides own campaign of Fear and Hate. Repeatedly they claim Turkey will join the EU and 77 million (Yes 77 million!) Turks will make a bee line for our shores. The Fact that Turkey has been trying to join the EU for over 50 years and is no closer to for filling the criteria to join. If anything, they're moving in the opposite direction, from press freedoms and a president who seems more intent on suing German comics that 'insult' him. Plus, to join the EU, all 28 countries have to agree. We would probably Veto them, and I'm damn well sure Cyprus will Veto them as well. But in Vote Leave land, this matters not. 'It's government policy to bring Turkey into the EU.' They say. In the past is has been, but the changing nature of Turkey's relationship with the EU will affect that. Leave have an answer though. 'If the EU wants to do something, they will.' So there we are then. Why even bother voting, we'll just wait for the tanks to roll in shall we.

Immigration has been at the forefront of the Leave campaign, and the remain camp has found this to be the hardest thing to fight against. 'our public services are under pressure because of immigrants!' is the central claim. In a country where migrants make up less than 10% of the population, It's hard to imagine that the whole lot are causing issues. They're not. EU immigrants pay more into the UK in tax than they take out, and damn it, if they've paid in, then they're entitled to use it. The reason that public services are at breaking point is simple. In 2010, the government of the day began cutting public services in order to reduce the countries deficit. That cutting has continued with the current government. The Prime Minister, David Cameron is the same man who began the cuts in 2010 and is currently leading the Remain camp. So he can't stand there and say its not immigrants, its me. I did it. Likewise, the Leave camp is lead predominantly by conservative politicians who were in both governments as well. They can't say it was them as it wouldn't fit in with the narrative that the EU free movement is to blame. Plus these are the guys who are hoping to gain control of the current government if we do vote leave. No one wants to say 'We've screwed you over before, and now we have more control (Control is a leave buzzword) we're going to do more.'

Speaking of Control, Leave have made plenty of claims regarding the money we send to Brussels. They say, repeatedly, that being a member of the EU costs us £350 million pounds a week. If we didn't have to send that amount to Europe, would could invest it in the NHS for example. The claim is false though. Out of that £350 million, over half stays in the UK as part of the EU rebate. The figure we send to the EU is around £160 million. Its true that the rest of the money that stays in the UK is spent on things the EU says, but is that a bad thing. For example, there's the Common Agricultural policy that keeps farms running in impoverished area's. Wales and Cornwall along with other areas get over £1 billion in whats called 'objective 1' funding. This is funding to help regenerate some of the poorest area's of the UK. Just a mile from my keyboard right now, there's road improvements being made using Objective 1 funding. Train lines, colleges and even apprenticeships have all gained from the European funding. Leave claim that leaving the EU, they'd keep that funding in place, that Farm subsidies would be safe, that they'd even cut the VAT on gas and electricity bills, and tampons! plus lots of other stuff. They guarantee it in fact. The thing is, they're not the government, so any spending pledges are worthless. Even if they Win, replace Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne and somehow gain government power, the budget still has to find money from somewhere. The £8 billion annual bill we're saving by not being in the EU has to go a long way. And in government terms £8 billion is chicken feed. We spend £728 billion on defence alone. Most telling of course is this. That £8 billion represents just 1% or there about of GDP. Any recession after a Brexit (Which all the experts agree will happen, though what do they know, right?) would see GDP shrink, wiping out that £8 billion saving. Boris Johnson assures us it isn't going to happen though, and if it does, he'll publicly apologise on TV. Thank Boris, I'm sure the unemployed people who believed in you will appreciate that as they're benefits get cut to try and make savings.

Unanswered Questions.

I've tried to stay neutral in writing this piece, as I do with any review I write, but seeing the reality of the situation written down on the screen stirs my anger. We sit on the edge of a cliff, where the options are to either stay on the edge, or jump. The fact we're even thinking of jumping is a unbelievable, and it feels like we've got to this position by being promised the world on a stick. It's that same stick that poking us in the back as we teeter ever closer to the edge. There no answer to a range of questions heading into tomorrows vote, and sadly, there seems to a hell of a lot of people not asking, shouting out 'I want my country back' instead. Freedom from Europe will come at a price, and I'm damn well sure that the Leave campaign guys won't be the ones paying it!

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Never trust a guide book!

This week it's be all go as we've been apartment hunting in Vienna. Over the course of five days, we've seen 6 apartments, been to two business meetings, drank many Ottakringer beers and eaten just a few slices of delicious cakes. While the apartment hunt has been tiring, it's other things that have taught us a lesson, so to speak. 

Always trust your guidebook?

This move has been in the planning for many years. Given we're moving to a foreign country, it's often wise to do a 'bit of research' into your chosen home. To aid me in my quest, Lynda lovingly bought me a little guidebook to the Austrians, the culture and the history of one of Europes oldest countries. In this hallowed text, I learnt many things about the 'Austrian way', and without a doubt, this week has shown it to a complete load of bollocks. Let's take a look at just a few 'Austrianisms' that didn't pan out this week. 

1. Time. 

Time and tide wait for no Austrian, so my guide informed me. Punctuality is king. To some extent this is true. I've sat and watched as buses, trains and trams arrive at the exact moment they should, and depart at exactly the right time. This punctuality extends to the Austrians themselves and the guide warned me that 'you should never be late. In fact Austrians consider even being exactly on time for a meeting to be 'late'.' So with this sage advice ringing in my ears, Lynda and I headed off for a meeting at the Vienna Business Agency. We arrived, as all good Austrians should, four minutes early. We were chuffed with ourselves for this feat, made even sweeter by my taking A wrong turn off the tram and slowing us up as I regained my whereabouts. Happily we greeted the receptionist, informed her we were there to see someone. Her response was one of panic, as she informed us we were early and the nice gentleman we were due to meet wasn't quite ready!  This was a mockery! Had the book been wrong or was this just a simple 'one off'?  Errrr, no. Later that day at a second meeting, due to start at 6pm, we found ourselves waiting 18 minutes!  So the score Austria 1 - Book 0.

Keep it formal.

'Austrians really appreciate a title' so the guide informs. From Doctorates to degrees, Austrians wear them with pride. Formality is appreciated. The guide tells me I should 'never greet a fellow person informally, even if you know then quite well.' It tells me even something as simple as greeting your neighbour, whom you've lived next to for twenty years, should be addressed as 'Herr or Frau'. So every email passed between us and our estate agent began with 'Guten Morgen Herr Gerzabek'.

Herr Gerzabek however was way more laid back, and as the week went on, we found he was very informal. Talking on the phone with a fellow collegue, He'd simply state, 'hey, it's Wolfgang.' So the guide was kind of wrong again. Austria 2 - Book 0.

Follow the rules, or you'll be sorry! 

'Rules are Rules' so sayeth the book. Austrians love rules and will enforce them when needed. That goes for the general public and not just the authorities. There are stories of people forgetting to validate their tram tickets, only to get caught by the transit authorities. The people on the tram then join in with the guards and publicly Berate the hapless offender. The same is true for jaywalkers, with old ladies telling off those who dare cross the road when the little man is still red. 

Wolfgang, our tame estate agent however laughs in the face of such rules, as we saw him crossing a road to reach a tram stop not 50 meters from a crossing. Even worse was the driver who helpfully slowed down and motioned for us to cross. Then there's the gas. Speaking with Fredrich at the Vienna Business Agency about old buildings and insurance, he told us of the how his apartment block was put on notice due to a gas leak. So far, iso good. He continued to tell us however that the gas had been leaking for years and the gas board had been checking it every so often, but found the leak to be not really worth the effort. The people living in the apartments though had no idea it was even leaking. 

Then there were the apartments we saw that featured bare electrical wiring sticking out of the walls. We checked if we needed to get an electrictian in to fit lights (a UK law requirement) but no, have a bash yourself! And don't even start me on the walking ladder technique that seems for stick two fingers up to 'Health and Safety rules'. Austria 3 - Book 0.

Final scores Austria 3 - Book 0

It's fairly clear that whilst it's possible to get a feel for a place, it's history and it's culture from a guide, you never really learn what it's really like until you experience it for yourself. Those Crazy Austrians are just like us crazy Brits and the crazy French and so on. They're a mix of all sorts of people and personallites. A guide is just that, a guide, as the truth is often somewhere inbetween what's written and what your personal experience is.