Archive for September, 2008

Is Daddy in Canada?

Monday, September 29th, 2008

“Yes, my sweet. He’ll be there a bit longer.”

This is how our last couple of mornings began. Annie clomps (loud hardwood floors) into my bedroom, asks about Dad and proclaims: “I’m hungry. Get up!” Nice. At 5:30 in the morning as an extra special treat.

The first 4 days have actually gone pretty well. I’m surprised I think this, given that, in that time, Rebecca had the flu, then I had the flu (luckily for both of us it was pretty mild and only last 24 hours) and currently Annie has a cold. (To be expected with the start of a new daycare.) Opa helped out with daycare drop-off and pick-up duties last week, and we made it through the first weekend without too much trouble. Luckily I was sick on Friday, so just slept for 4 hours while Annie was at Kindergruppe. If I had been sick on the weekend…Yikes!

After a wee chat about the 12-hour computer marathon on Saturday, Rebecca made up and for it by taking Annie out for 2 hours on Sunday to the park and a treat at the bakery. Very sweet sister.

I’ve also caved in on a few things. The first is painting, which I’ve been very reluctant to do, as Annie has already had lovely episodes of colouring on every page in a book, walking around marking clothes with a felt pen, etc., etc. I managed by laying down garbage bags and stripping Annie down to her diaper. As expected, she really enjoyed it!

Picasso Annie

And during a trip to a toy store, I bought her a stroller for her baby doll. She always likes these, but there was one at daycare in Canada so we wanted to make it a special treat for there. Well, I think I’m already regretting that decision. We went for a walk on Sunday and it took us 20 minutes to go 2 blocks because she wanted to walk with the stroller. After much frustration and lots of tears (because Annie was tired but didn’t want to let go), I put Annie in her stroller holding onto the baby stroller in her lap. Sheesh. However, it was pretty hilarious last night when Annie climbed into the baby stroller and asked me to push her.

We also usually only allow bubbles outside, but made an exception and blew some in the bath. This worked quite well, as Annie was already covered in soapy water so the bubbles didn’t pop when they landed on her skin. She ended up with a dozen bubbles all over her. No picture, but it was pretty cute!

Markus doesn’t have a return ticket yet, but hopefully only 10 or so days to go. (I really, really don’t know how my friends whose husbands are pilots or in the Navy manage. I guess you just get through). And next week should be easier still as Annie can start to go to daycare for full days instead of just the mornings. So far she loves it, so another blessing.

Annie and the Wild Animals

Monday, September 29th, 2008

One of our favourite things to do in Innsbruck is to go to the Alpenzoo. The trip starts with a short walk and then a tram ride up the mountain. (You can also hike up. It takes about an hour and you will have to be in much better shape than I am to make it pushing a toddler-filled stroller.) I didn’t get a great picture of the ride; but you can get the idea here:

Our ride home from the Alpenzoo

Our ride home from the Alpenzoo

The first main attraction (after the playground, which we always visit) is the bears. You can see them from a couple of different viewpoints. Here are some shots of these cuddly creature.

From the bear area you switchback up the mountain with animal cages lining the trails. There is a good range of animals and birds. The smaller playground up the hill a bit is somewhat creepy as two enormous vultures stare down at you. There is also none of the N.A. shielding of reality for children; dead half-eaten carcasses are clearly on display in the carnivore areas. (I find that reality is presented a lot more graphically to children here. For example, Annie’s book, Die Kuh, starts with a picture of cow dung being eaten by flies and ends with images of cow products, including meat and leather shoes as well as the dairy.)

There is a goat petting area at the end, but we tend to be hungry by this time (and Annie spent lots of time petting goats at Beacon Hill), so we usually head to one of the 2 restaurants.

Here are a couple more pictures of the animals, and one of the view from the Alpenzoo. Beautiful!

To remind us of home.

To remind us of home.

View from the Alpenzoo.

View from the Alpenzoo.

Expanding my World

Friday, September 26th, 2008

In the second day of German classes we discussed where everyone was from and what languages they speak. I’ve spent most of my adult life in very white, very uni-lingual cities (London, Ont and Victoria, BC) and was amazed at how I was the odd person out. 7 people were from Turkey, 2 from Serbia, and the others from Iraq, Afghanistan, Romania, Egypt, Czech Republic, and me from Canada.

The languages that the 16 of us speak are: German, English, Serbian, Italian, Slovakian, Czech, Persian, Hindi, Romanian, Spanish, Turkish, Arabian, French and Russian.

One woman, Ana, was from Serbia but had spent the last 16 years in Russian. She spoke English well and we were able to chat. At break about 6 of us go for coffee and it is pretty interesting trying to piece together a conversation. Since everyone is struggling, it is easier to make an attempt. Very good practice.

Annie is also making out well with her daycare. Her clear verbal skills in English are helpful, as one of her caretakers, Gabby, speaks English well. And she certainly is picking up a lot of German; I’m sure she will be fairly fluent in a couple of months.

In other news, Markus left for Victoria yesterday morning for two weeks. Rebecca and I promptly got the flu and Annie has a cold. Good times on the home front. We’ll get through it, we’ll get through it….

School Daze

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

Annie and I both had a big day today; I started German class while Annie tried out her daycare.

Dad took Annie to her new Kindergruppe. She is in a class of about 12, but there were only 8 children there today. This daycare has an easing-in period, so they only stayed 1 hour. Annie, of course, dove right in and enjoyed playing with the children and the toys. Tomorrow Markus is going to request that he leave for a bit, as Annie does better when we are not around and doesn’t seem to miss us. (I’m going to say that this is a positive thing.)

My German class was great. The teacher is enthusiastic and keeps things moving while ensuring we repeat the words and concepts often. For the first couple of hours his exercises all involved learning the 16 student’s names, which will certainly help us to get to know each other and feel like a class. I am the only native English speaker, but a few students speak a bit of English so I was able to chat with them at the break. I picked up a few of the  students’ stories already, and hope to hear more…it is so interesting to discover what leads people to move to a country where they don’t speak the language. So far:

– A mom who is in Tirol for the year while her 16-year old son attends a tennis school in Seefeld (about 30 minutes outside of Innsbruck)

– A veterinarian who is spending 3 years in Austria as part of his training (not sure why exactly yet)

– A young woman staying with her sister for a few months

Most of the students seem to be from Croatia, Slovenia, or Turkey. There is a real mix of ages, but everyone seems very keen to learn. Having reinforcements from multiple sources (newspapers, signs, conversations) is certainly going to help me to pick up the language. I imagine that by the time I’ve done the third or fourth 3-week course I’ll be able to chat a bit with the locals (as long as I pick up some of the Tyrolian dialect.) Very exciting!


Thursday, September 18th, 2008
The first snowfall on the Alps

The first snowfall on the Alps

I forgot how land-locked regions, like Austria (and the Canadian Prairies), can experience extreme temperature changes within days. Last week we were in our bathing suits at an outdoor pool soaking up the heat and sunshine, and this week people have pulled out their down parkas. Seriously.

As you can see, the first dusting of snow has fallen on the Alps. Markus, of course, thinks skiing! so is totally stoked. I’m getting reports of 25+ weather in Victoria, so am a bit less enthused. I knew that going back to winter was going to be one of my challenges with Austria; hopefully it will warm up again before real winter sets in so I don’t have to test my resolve just yet.

We have been under a bit of a black cloud the last few days. The apartment we had thought was ours was given away by the property manager to someone else. Markus is pretty sure that it is because we have children (apparently she was put out when she learned it wasn’t just for the 2 of us), but of course they can’t mention that as it is illegal here to exclude kids in a building. So back to the search. We are looking at another place today that has some potential. We are also getting worried about our house not selling, so have dropped the price again. And I’m starting to feel the stress of Markus leaving next Wednesday to spend 2 weeks in Victoria. I’m sure everything will work out, but it is taking some energy to stay positive.

On the plus side, all of our boxes arrived safely. Now we just need to haul the 500 lbs of stuff up 3 flights of stairs and we are good to go. And then back down again when we move to the new apartment. My kingdom for an elevator.

Another plus is I had a successful haircut and highlight session. I really liked my hair stylist in Victoria, so am thankful that this worked out.

Here is the post-cut pic.

I’ll do another, cheerier post about Annie’s and my trip to the Alpenzoo.

Annie Girl

Monday, September 15th, 2008


Here is a picture of Annie sleeping (having her nap at Star Lake this summer). I’ve included it here as evidence that she does, in fact, sleep.

However, that wasn’t the case at 4:45 this morning. It is now 6:45 and after 2 hours of trying to put her back to sleep, then encouraging her to play on her own, and then finally getting up and colouring together on her easel, I’ve succumbed and turned on the Kleine Dodo DVD about a little monkey. At least it is in German so I can pretend it is educational.

So I thought I should write about some of the things I love about Annie…it is important to remember these things at times like this.

First of all, I’m having so much fun observing Annie’s love of language. The other day I asked her to schooch over so I could snuggle with her on the bed. Well, that was the favourite word for days. “Schooch over Mommy…I’m going to schooch over…Diego (Susi’s dog) schooch off my foot.” I bought Annie some sand toys and she asked what one of them was. I went blank for a second, so I called it a ‘digger’ before I pulled ‘hoe’ out of my addled brain. I must have said hoe eighteen time, and digger only once. But let’s face it, digger is much more fun to say. So digger it is ever more. And there are some words that I don’t even want to correct because they are so cute (probably not the best parenting advice, but there you go.) “Sunscream” just cracks me up every time she says it.

I also love listening to Annie reading books. She mashes up words she remembers from the story, with pictures she sees on the page, with other events in her life and reads the whole story out loud. Sometimes I recognize my intonations, which makes me chuckle. Every book starts with “Once upon a time”, which is interesting since I don’t actually think she owns any books that start with that traditional phrase. Must be a daycare thing.

My heart is warmed when Annie sends back one of my phrased at me. I found some desired raspberries in the fridge and received a “Good job Mommy” as my reward. I’m sure there will be lots of words that I will regret forever when a future teenage Annie starts talking back, so I’ll enjoy it while I can.

Ah, now that I am writing it I could go on and on. I’m feeling much better. Just one last thing then. Of couse my favourite Annie moment is when we are snuggling at bedtime saying our goodnights to all of the important people in her life. At the end, I kiss her and say “I love you Annie” and she says “I love you Mommy” right back.

Enjoying the Last Days of Summer

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

The last few days we have spent lots of time outdoors, as it is predicted to get cold and rainy for the next week. Aunt Suzi, cousin Lili, Annie and I went to this amazing outdoor pool complex. It is very close to the city center so we biked. I had my first bike ride with Annie in the child carrier on the back; she loves it but Mom was a bit nervous at first. We spent hours there enjoying the different pools, water slides, and grassy areas.

Fun at the outdoor pool.

Here is a cute one of Lili…she and Annie get along well. Usually.

Cousin Lili in the sun.

Cousin Lili in the sun.

The next day Markus, Annie and I took a gondola up the mountain to Mutterer Alm. In the summer there is an extensive trail system and in the winter, skiing of course. Annie’s favourite part was the grazing cows. She was intrigued from the moment we heard the cow bells and saw them from the gondola. And let me tell you, these things are big; this ain’t no petting zoo.

We walked for about half an hour then had lunch at a chalet (pretty much anywhere you hike in the mountains ends in somewhere to get a beer and a plateful of hearty food.) Annie and I shared pasta with sausage and Markus had Krautfleckeln…a very healthy and low-cal mix of saurerkraut, noodles, ham and cheese. Delish! Markus had a drink called a Radler, which is a mix of beer and lemonade (I guess like a shanty); very refreshing. Clearly Annie has some serious Austrian genes, as her current favourite food is cabbage, either cooked or in a salad.

Here are some pics from the day.

The beginning of the hike. Annie pulled at Markus' hair almost the whole way. Delightful.

The beginning of the hike. Annie pulled at Markus' hair almost the whole way. Delightful.

Annie patting the cow.

Annie patting the cow.

Our mid-hike chalet stop.

Our mid-hike chalet stop.

Nailing Down the Big Three

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

As this third week in Innsbruck comes to a close, many things are falling into place. The little things (hair appliances, special skin care products, etc.) are wonderfully easy to come by; shopping and dining out appear to be an art form in this small city. I haven’t braved shoe shopping yet, but as I couldn’t find any in Victoria, it won’t be much of a change if that is a problem. And Munich (where there are lots of tall Germans who have, I’m hoping, big feet) is as easy to access (2 hours by train) as Vancouver, so same same. Scrapbooking supplies continue to elude me, but I haven’t given up yet. And paper and stickers ship easily when ordered online.

Most importantly, details are shaping up on the big three: apartment, daycare and computer. I’ll start with the computer. I made the leap and bought a MacBook. Everyone I know who has a Mac loves it, so thought I’d check it out. So far so good. Well, sort of. Our internet provider, T-mobile, sold us a package with a modem that didn’t include Mac software. You have to download it from the internet. Which you can’t access because you have no connection. Nice. Markus, my knight in shining armor, figured it out for me after several attempts and a few curses. So here I am catching up with friends and family and blog on my light, fast and sleek new computer. I couldn’t figure out how to make the Safari browser full-screen, so switched to Firefox (hard to believe that I worked in IT for 6 years, but there you go.)

We have verbally committed to an apartment. Of course, there are pros and cons to the place we choose. Big, big pro is that it is right downtown…above a 3 minute walk from The Hotel. That means Rebecca’s high school, my German school, Annie’s daycare and Markus’ work will all be within easy walking distance (daycare is the farthest away at about a 15 minute walk, or very short bike or streetcar ride.) After the almost hour round trip to Teri’s to drop Annie off, this is a dream! Other plus is that it has enough rooms. Actually finding an apartment in the downtown core with a configuration for 3 separate bedrooms plus a living room is rare. And it is in a fairly new building so is clean and bright and modern. (One of the rooms I think was intended as a dining room, but whatever.)

The cons start with, of course, the bathroom. Back in Canada I said I would put my foot down about having  2 bathrooms. But even as I said it, I had a feeling that this was going to be a foot I’d have to go ahead and pick right back up. Europeans just don’t have the obsession with bathrooms that us, sane, North American’s do. I think it is a case of not knowing what you are missing until you have it. Oh, if they only knew. Anyway, one tiny room with toilet and sink and one slightly larger room with bathtub, sink and space for washer/dryer it is. The bedrooms are quite large, so we are going to compromise by setting Rebecca and I up in our bedrooms with hair dryers and make-up mirrors so that the bathroom will only be used for bathing. We’ll see how long I last before complaining here. Don’t bet on this one folks.

Another sort of con is that there isn’t a ton of natural light. It is on the top floor (oh, that is a big plus as it is quieter, no one is above us and only offices below us so we don’t have to feel bad about Stompin’ Annie running across the hardwood) and has some slanted walls due to the grade of the roof. This cuts into some of the 1600 sq. feet. of space due to low ceilings and also means that the windows are really more like slanted skylights with no view. Views from even the second or third floor can be amazing in this town, as all of the view is looking up to the mountains, and I was hoping for at least a view from one window. Oh well…not a crisis.

But overall I think it will work for the family as well as for any guests that we have. Already Rebecca’s Mom and Katherine are coming to stay over Christmas, as well as our friends Renata and Ryan. Very exciting!

Daycare will start on the 22nd, as mentioned before. (I talk about daycare far too much; poor Annie is going to have crisis when she reads this in a few years. I love you, Annie, more than the air I breath, but I just am not good as a 24/7 caregiver. And frankly, you are dying to get together with other kids, so it is for the best.)

So overall with some luck, some determination and Markus’ patience, we are stating to make a real home here in Innsbruck. How grateful I am.

Bridge over the River Inn

Saturday, September 6th, 2008

Markus, Annie and I went for a bike ride yesterday (Annie was in a seat on the back of the bike). We biked for about half an hour, stopped for coffee and treat at a small rural hotel, and came home. Innsbruck is an amazing place for commuter bikers. There are hundreds of kilometers of bike paths, especially along the Inn River on both sides. And of course hard-core mountain bikers (hi Mandy and Geoff) can get their fill in the Alps. On our trip we crossed a wooden bridge to make our way out of town. Very soon we were in farm country with corn and sunflowers and goats.

The views are intense and amazing here. I know some Prairie folk feel boxed in by the mountains, but I never think that. In fact, I find it somewhat cozy to be snuggled in the valley surrounded by these endless peaks.

Annie loved the ride, of course; anything with speed and outdoors mixed together is a good thing in her books. Innsbruck also has about a million little playgrounds for kids. We must have passed one every 10 minutes or so along the riverside. I’m sure we will have fun getting to know them better and find out which ones are Annie’s favourites.

On the ride home Annie fell asleep and we did the delicate transfer from bike seat to stroller; poor dear hasn’t had a nap in her bed since we got here. We seem to be much more on the move with things to see and errands to run. And like her dear Mom, she can’t stay awake for long traveling in any type of vehicle.

I loved feeling like I had done some real exercise. I’m looking forward to letting ‘athletic Hillary’ out of her soft shell this year. (I’m sure she is in there somewhere!) Between the biking and constant walking, it shouldn’t take too long. There are just unlimited experiences here for people who have endurance for long distance walks and bikes. And the rewards of the views (not to mention the alpine restaurants) make it worthwhile.

Here is a picture of the River Inn on our first day and one of Annie walking on the river path (once she woke up, as she fell asleep in the stroller :))

Innsbruck means "Bridge over the River Inn" in old German

View of the River Inn. Innsbruck means "Bridge over the River Inn" in old German

Annie strolling along the river walk

Annie strolling along the river walk

Lovely Lunch in Italia

Friday, September 5th, 2008

Yesterday we left Annie with Aunt Suzi, Lili and Rebecca while Markus and I drove to Italy. He wanted to meet with the owners of The Hotel to try to finalize their decision on whether or not he can renovate and run the hotel. It looks fairly positive…we should know for sure by the end of the month.

The drive to South Tirol was beautiful. I adore the Austrian farm houses perched on the sloping foothills of the Alps. We passed ancient churches, and castles that were older still. I still find the time frames of the buildings mind blowing, as I am from a country that is less than 150 years old.

I walked around the little town where Markus had his meeting, and enjoyed the warmth of the last days of summer. It is a very beautiful area; Markus explained that it was part of Austria before they lost one too many wars, which is why everyone speaks German as well as Italian. From the outside, the town seems quite rustic and rural. However, there must be some serious tourists, as there is a large store I poked around in that sells high-end Burberry and Prada (€2000 purses anyone?). I did see a very cute pair of sneakers for Annie, at a mere €115 (multiply by 1.5 to get the Canadian equivalent) with a matching pair for me for €170, but I refrained.

On the drive home we took a short detour to Brixen for lunch. What a great little town! They have an amazing old town with shops, restaurants, cafes and outdoor markets. Lunch at an outdoor cafe was house-made pasta with saffron, chanterelle mushrooms and crab, served with an interesting twist on a Caesar salad (none of the heavy creamy dressing here.) The pasta was so flavourful and not too big of a portion, which was a welcome change from the loaded plates served in NA. After lunch I looked around for a purse to buy, but didn’t see anything I liked. Well, I saw many that I liked but I’m not up for spending $500 on a handbag.

I’m sure these day trips are going to be my favourite part of spending this time in Europe. More to come!

Hillary in old town Blixen

Hillary in Brixen, Italy

Markus at this great old church in Blixen

Markus at this great old church in Brixen