Archive for November, 2008

Annie and Her City

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

Well, Annie certainly has come to make Innsbruck her own. We walked to a downtown shopping center this afternoon, and when I blew by the place we sometimes buy ice cream, she looked back at me from her stroller like I was more than a wee bit insane. “What in the world do you think you are doing?” her face read and in a very calculated voice declared, “I want some ice cream.” Später, my love.

Annie frequently points out stores or has a running comment on streets that she is familiar with. I’m glad she is identifying this as her hometown, where she has memories and adventures. Every time we put on her warm boots, she asks if we are going to play in the snow, which obviously isn’t something she has or will experience in beautiful warm Victoria. We all need connections, don’t we?

As to how the temporary single mommyhood is going, I have to say that weekends without Markus are the most difficult for me. We struggled through the morning, as we both are sick and Annie woke up early with a cough and trouble breathing. But then she had a 3 hour nap, which allowed me to have a bath, relax and work a bit more on my soon-to-be late Christmas cards. (You’ll all be fine with a post-Christmas card, right?) Actually, I have no idea how long it takes for mail to get from Austria to Canada, so I might be fine. We’ll see and I’m sure you will report back.

After lunch we went to said shopping mall. I tried their service for the first time where you can drop-off (ditch?) your child for up to 3 hours while shopping. Annie, oddly, had a few tears at first but then saw the doll and stroller and was all “see ya mom”. She didn’t want to leave after 1 1/2 hours when I picked her up. It was a great way to blast through some errands and then have a relaxing cup of hot chocolate. Definitely going to do that again. And since Markus is staying another week in Canada, perhaps we’ll be going back to that mall again, and again, and again…

What a Difference Two Months Make

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

This will be a short one, as I have managed to come down with another cold. Apparently I have no immunity to European viruses. Oh well. With the ColdFX, I’m not feeling it too badly.

So far things without Markus are going O.K. Annie is in full-time daycare, so I can catch up after my classes in the afternoon. Also speaking a bit more German helps a lot. A big milestone in my Deutsch sprachen…I actually was able to give someone on the street directions when they were lost. Lots of hand-gestures, but still. (Apparently I have a friendly, I’m-not-a-axe-murderer face, because no matter where I go in the world, people always stop me and ask me for directions.)

I really notice a difference in Annie from the last time Markus left until this time. Annie is just that much more independent, better at dressing/undressing herself, able to keep herself entertained. It certainly helps. She woke up a bit earlier today, but 6:00 is still an improvement over 4:30!

Plus having friends makes the world of difference. Lauriane and her husband, (another Markus), one of her French friends and I all went out with the kids yesterday evening to the Christmas Market. We had Glüwine and chatted until the kids started to freeze. Lots of fun.

That is it for now. I’m off to put Annie to bed and then crawl into bed myself with a cup of tea. Hopefully I can make it to class tomorrow so I don’t miss anything.

A Bit of This, a Bit of That

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

Well, the first couple of days ohne Markus have been just fine. Sister-in-law Susi and I took the cousins to play at one of the shopping centers (not as pathetic as it sounds because the play area is skookum) while we had coffee and chatted.

And tonight Rebecca suggested we go skating. Around the corner from us (literally…like 35 seconds away) is an open skating rink that the bank puts up in their plaza each year. Markus’ Dad had skates for all of us, including some old one of Lili’s for Annie. Annie has been on the ice before, but this was her first time actually skating. Rebecca and I mostly hauled her around, but she loved it and wants to go again. Mommy, on the other hand, discovered that although she used to be a fairly proficient skater, now sucks. But hopefully after a winter here that will improve.

Annie misses Dad and asks about him frequently. I’m not helping, as I tend to talk to myself out loud; Annie keeps thinking I am talking to Markus and comes running into the room to see if he is there. My quirkiness will soon make us all insane.

I guess the other big news for those of you following our trials and tribulations of parenthood, is that Annie slept in until 7:00 this morning! (My knees are sore from all the genuflecting in gratitude to the gods above.) Please join me in a collective finger-crossing that this wasn’t an anomaly.

I still love my German classes, but am finding it increasingly difficult, as the pace is very rapid. I had a fun couple of exchanges with people when I posted on Facebook that I was feeling like I would never learn German. Mostly the advice centered around drinking more beer, which certainly isn’t difficult to do here. I’ve actually had a bit too much to drink on a couple of occasions and can verify that this does, in fact, improve one’s ability to speak another language! (Nothing to do with just thinking I am doing better, of course.)

Off to send out some hand-made Christmas cards (this Hausfrau thing sure beats working!)

Tschüss!

A Hard Landing

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

Well, I’m glad I chronicled the heady days of Vienna for my personal history book, because it is a real come down this weekend. Things continue to be a challenge with the Canadian hotel, so we decided that Markus needs to go home next week. He leaves tomorrow for, hopefully, only 8 days. I have to say that I’m rooting for a success, because I’m just not ready to move back to Canada. I am crazy obsessed with cracking this second language thing and, overall, life here in Europe is good. I love that people here do not spend their time, energy and money focusing on ‘stuff’ (last week’s jewellery drooling aside), I adore not having a vehicle, I’m meeting people in circumstances I have never encountered before, (which is greatly expanding my perspective on the world), and of course I am soaking up travelling to new places. Life is far from perfect here, and life is certainly not bad in beautiful Victoria, I’m just not ready to return to my old world. Keeping my fingers crossed.

On the plus side of things, we had a lovely weekend. Annie was so excited when we got home…she had the biggest grin on her face. We spent the day yesterday wandering around enjoying all of the Christmas festivities. There is a skating rink just around the corner from our house, and the lights and pretty trees are all turned on.

And today we went tobogganing! It was so fun. Tobogganing here is different than in Canada. You drive part way up the mountain and then hike the rest of the way. It should have taken about an hour to walk up, but with a toddler and a very out of shape Mommy, it was closer to an hour and a half. But well worth it. The trees are incredibly beautiful covered in snow, and the view from the mountain top is stunning. At the end of the hike is (always) a rustic restaurant where you get to eat back all of the calories that you expended on the climb. Oh well.

After our hearty lunch Markus and Annie went on one toboggan, and I went on the other one. It is a real exercise in concentration, as the path isn’t all that wide and there is a drop off on one side and lots of fellow hikers going up with children and babies on the other. Luckily, we all made it alive.

I didn’t take the camera, as our previous one broke the last time we went tobogganing, but here is a (closed-eyed) shot of Annie at the top of the mountain taken on the cell phone. Still cute I think.

So overall I’m continuing to be positive and feel much better about the time alone with Annie than last time. You’ll be the first to know if it isn’t going well!

A Viennese Ball

Saturday, November 22nd, 2008

The last day in Vienna was certainly the highlight. I decided that I needed to make another try at a museum, since there are so many here and the buildings are as amazing to view as the exhibits. I decided to head to the Belvedere Palace. The building was constructed in the early 1720’s and also has an beautiful and intricate garden. I’ve been there before, but as Klimt is a personal favourite, I was happy to head there again.

Here is a shot of the main upper building…check out those rain clouds! It was a wet day.

I enjoy going through museums at my own pace. I sometimes stay and look at a painting for a long while and other times just blow through the rooms if it isn’t something that interests me or if I can’t process anything else for a few minutes (small brain).

I did brave a modern art exhibit there in the lower building. It was a collection from collaborative artists Arnulf Rainer and Dieter Roth. It was, well, hmmm, well…good to try new things. You can decide for yourself.

Rainer/Roth exhibit

Rainer/Roth artwork

Then off to see Klimt and Moll and Wilhelm List. There was a couple of paintings of young girls by List. They had such a twinkle in their eye and confident poses and a hint of a monkey grin that it just made me think of Annie (although after 4 days away, just about everything made me think of Annie.)

I also spent some time thinking about how I view different forms of art. Without a doubt, the first 20 or 30 years of the 20th Century are my favourite period for paintings. Time and again I think a painting striking and it invariably is from those years, regardless of whether or not I have heard of the artist (usually not). However, the literature of that era often leaves me stone cold (Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and the rest of the modernists.) It wasn’t until the post-modern period (Sheila Watson, Kurt Vonnegut, Italo Calvino) that I really found my groove in terms of literature. (Followed of course by my obsession with Canadian lit.) And poetry is different again. I’m as happy to read William Blake as Robert Frost as ee cummings. And then there is movies. They are my complete off switch, so I can sit through and enjoy James Bond and Mission Impossible as much as The Pianist or Like Water for Chocolate.

Anyway, it was a delight having time and space to think about these things. Now back to Vienna.

I spent the afternoon getting my hair done and even splurged on makeup. (Although after I struck up a great conversation with the make-up artist, who is of Turkish descent but was born in Vienna, the ridiculous number of samples she gave me probably made up for the costs of the sitting.) Markus and I got our ball attire on and were off to the fest.

Here we are in our finery in our hotel room. (The couple of shots people took of us together weren’t good, so you’ll just have to image us arm in arm)

The dress isn't new, but still pretty I think

The dress isn't new, but still pretty I think

And a bit closer

And a bit closer

And Markus

My handsome penguin

My handsome penguin

The ball was at the Rathouse, which is City Hall. We were transported in an historic street car, which was quite fun and special. When we arrived, there was a large Christmas Market in full swing. The lawns and trees were completely decked-out for Christmas, with beautiful lights everywhere and giant electric lamps in the trees.

Here is a shot of a market stall and one of the exterior of the building.

Christkindlmarkt

Christkindlmarkt

Wien Rathaus

Wien Rathaus

We walked up on a red carpet, just to set the mood, and then had a reception in the main hall. The evening was sponsored by Moet & Chandon, so you can just imagine how much Champagne was poured that night. (Whatever you are thinking…double it.)

The dinner and dancing was in the main hall. Incredibly beautiful with three-storey ceilings and massive chandeliers. (I have a new-found love of chandeliers after this trip.)

The main ballroom in City Hall

The main ballroom in City Hall

Here is a clearer day shot from the net.

The meal was fantastic, especially considering they were serving 600 people. The big splurge was on the truffles. There were three on each table, so the scent wafted over the room from the moment you sat down. Delicious. When the main course was served, the waitstaff brought out the mandolins and gave each person a generous helping. Probably $50 worth per person, according to the chefs we were seated with. (For the millionth time that week, I was so glad all costs were included in the event…we aren’t particularly flush with cash right now, and I am still interested in eating and feeding the family for the next few months.)

Our dinner companions were from Ontario, France and London, and I enjoyed each of them. (If Markus and Maria hang on to the hotel for a bit, it would be great to get to visit some of these places. But I’m not keeping my hopes up.)

The organizers had a few surprises for us as well. The first was a 20-minute concert by the Vienna Boys Choir. They really live up to their reputation and were just delightful. There were a couple of soloists that would blow any contestant on American Idol out of the water, let me tell you. And they were probably 10 years old. And then before dessert we also were treated to two singers from the Vienna Opera. Wonderful.

After dessert a 15-piece orchestra set up on the stage and started to play traditional Viennese waltzes. There were 4 young couples in white dresses and black ties who gave a short performance to show how the traditional waltzes looked when done properly. And then we all joined in. Markus and I did our best for a few dances. He is a good leader, so even though I’m a bad follower (control issues), we held our own.

At about midnight the electronic music came on and let me tell you, that was quite the sight. A couple of hundred overworked hoteliers and chefs in long ball gowns and tuxedos going at it to Van Halen and Joan Jett. Too funny! But luckily all of us were sufficiently sauced to just let loose and have fun.

We arrived back at the hotel at about 2 a.m. That was certainly an evening to remember.

Horses and Hilarity

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Day 3 in Wien…In the morning I spent a bit of time just relaxing in the hotel, which was lovely. I then decided to walk through the Ringstrassen Gallerien, which I guess could be compared to Sacs Fifth Avenue in New York. Very high end. I bought Annie a pair of slippers (adorable…and Lori, not pink!!) but other than that,  just window shopping. It is always fun to look, of course.

For lunch we met at the Ambassador Hotel for an wonderful meal that was beautifully prepared and presented. But the best thing about lunch was we were sitting with a couple from the UK who have a property in the English lake district. Markus and I are always scouting out people from the UK, as we both find the sharp, dry  British humour hilarious. Barney and Zoe didn’t disappoint. Fun tales of running a hotel and raising a baby and dealing with a family business. We were having a go at Sarah Palin when I realized that our other table guests were ranchers. From Montana. Oh oh. Luckily for our teeth, they were the new breed of Democrat Montana ranchers (that Barack Obama is a miracle worker.)

After lunch we were given a private showing from the Spanish Riding School, a traditional presentation dating back 430 years. The spectacle of the beautiful white Lipizzans included a demonstration of how the riders train the young horses, and then a perfectly choreographed show of the horses and riders. Very impressive. Pictures weren’t allowed once the horses were on the floor, but here is a shot I took before hand and then one from Wikipedia.

Luxurious setting for a horse show

Luxurious setting for a horse show. That was the Emperor's box with the blue flags.

The horses and riders in action

The horses and riders in action

That evening was free and so Markus and I decided to go with a low-key option of a quiet dinner and then an early night. The night was cold but fresh and we enjoyed walking to the restaurant through the city center. We saw some of the Christmas lights that were going to go up in the city for the season. Here is an example (they aren’t lit yet.)

A taste of the Viennese Christmas spectacle to come.

A taste of the Viennese Christmas spectacle to come.

Well that is it for tonight. I am too tired from yesterday to write about yesterday, so that will have to wait. It was the highlight of the trip, so stay tuned.

Ciao!

A Tale of Two Palaces: Schönbrunn and Hofburg

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Another Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous day. I’m sure it will get boring soon. Right.

After breakfast I had the morning to myself so I made a plan to go to the Albertina Museum to see the Van Gogh exhibit. However, when I walked over the line up was about 200 people deep. I only had about an hour and a half before I was to meet Markus so I scrapped that plan.

But oh did I find a little piece of Hillary heaven instead. The Grand Hotel where we are staying is on The Ringstrasse in the heart of Vienna, so everything is walking distance. I strolled around a bit and stumbled onto the Doroteum Auction House. Three floors of art, jewellery, furniture, silver, sculptures, glass ware, ceramics and jewellery. Did I mention the jewellery? All of it either for direct sale or for auction. The Doroteum was established in 1707, so a little more than 300 years ago. A beautiful setting for ogling the goods.

The furniture and art was mostly from the 19th and 20th Centuries. I’m about as far as it gets from an art aficionado, so the only artist I recognized right away was Andy Warhol. I always find looking at modern art an interesting experience for me. I teeter precariously close to the edge of the general masses who “Don’t get modern art.” (Sorry Andy…kind of like the Jazz thing.) For example, there seemed to be an inordinate amount of canvases which were simply painted one color…i.e. completely blank…being listed for several thousand Euros. Hmmm.

But then I pass something that really catches my eye and tugs on my emotions. There was a series by a German painter, Imi Knoebel, that I kept coming back to. I didn’t write down the name of the piece, but I call it Construction Paper on Bristol Board. Because it basically was a large monotone canvas with a smaller blank canvas of a different colour stuck onto it. The colours were bright and interestingly contrasted and, for some reason I can’t explain, intrigued me.

I also was quite fascinated by the modern art furniture. Not to actually use of course, (it looked terribly uncomfortable) but an interesting focus point for a room, I’m sure.

Anyway, it was a delightful 90 minutes and I have decided that for my 40th I’m going to ask Markus to take me there to pick out a lovely necklace. Because I’m worth it, right?

I met Markus to attend the lunch at the Hofburg Imperial Palace where the Relais & Chateaux conference is being held.

Here is a bit of history about the Hofburg:

The Imperial Palace, which until 1918 was inhabited by the imperial family, was originally a castle built in the thirteenth century, which was extended to a splendid residence in accordance with the increasing power of the Habsburgs and the expansion of their realm.

Today, the Imperial Palace houses the office of the President of Austria as well as an important congress center and numerous art collections.

Here are some shots I took yesterday:

Hofburg Imperial Palace

Hofburg Imperial Palace

Some of the gardens around the Palace

Some of the gardens around the Palace

The Hofburg certainly is spectacular and houses libraries, museums, offices and several meeting and conference areas. Each room is incredible and brings to mind the opulence of the empire. For example, here is the room where we had lunch (with a close-up of the chandeliers.)

Just the little lunch room

Just the little lunch room

Sure beats track lighting

Sure beats track lighting

After lunch and a quick change at the hotel, we piled onto buses that took us to the Schönbrunn Palace. Markus and I have been there before, but it certainly is worth seeing again.

Markus and I at the Schönbrunn

Markus and I at the Schönbrunn

Ariel shot from wikipedia

Aerial shot from wikipedia

We had a private tour of the public rooms and learned a bit more about the history. There are over 1400 rooms at the Palace, with only a handful open to the public. The two most well known rulers who lived there are Maria Theresa (with her 16 children, including Marie Antoinette) and Franz Joseph I, almost the last Emperor of Austria who died in 1916, 2 years before the throne was abdicated. Franz Joseph certainly had a lot less fun than the Tudors (if the television series has any basis in reality). He worked up to 14 hours a day and lived in relatively spare quarters with one of the smallest beds I’ve seen.

The tour was interesting and then they opened up the ballroom to us for a cocktail party. I didn’t get a great shot, but you get the idea.

Ballroom at the Schönbrunn

Ballroom at the Schönbrunn

Following the cocktail party we were taken by buses to mystery destinations for dinner. Our bus went 45 minutes out of town to Restaurant Taubenkobel, about 10 km west of Hungary. The Chef has 2 Michelin stars and the menu was certainly well prepared. As I am not the world’s most adventurous eater, I enjoyed some of the dishes very much (marinated rainbow rout with mango and fennel) and others less (goder of pork…that is the throat and the texture just put me off.) It is too bad we arrived at night, as the property is on a lake, which I’m sure would have been very beautiful.

Overall a long and lovely day.

Palais Coburg

Monday, November 17th, 2008

Ah, the incredible decadence of the hospitality elite who cater to the ridiculously wealthy. What a ride these 4 days are going to be.

We decided to take the train from Innsbruck, which is usually a great way to go. However, we were stopped for about 3 hours and so the trip was rather long. (This is very unusual for the train system here.) I actually didn’t mind much, as the views are beautiful and I was able to do some studying for German class.

Our room is lovely and spacious. Glad we aren’t paying for this ourselves, as rack rate is $500 Euros a night, and it isn’t even a suite! The bed is glorious and of course the bathroom is divine. I know the whole thing is completely ridiculous, and a small nation in need could be fed for a year on what this conference spends, but there is also a nasty, evil part of me that just soaks up the luxury. I must have been fabulously wealthy in a past life.

Luckily we arrived in time for the first event, a cocktail party at the Palais Coburg. What an incredible building! It is owned by someone who really has too much money, so they decided to put 100 million Euros into renovating the 60 room hotel. (I’m thinking the payback period is about a century.) Here is a bit of history:

The Palais Coburg was built in the period 1840-45 by Duke Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg & Gotha (1785-1851) on the Braunbastei [‘Brown Bastion’] – a part of the city defences dating back to the 16 th century. It is thanks to this “super-construction” that a large part of the Renaissance fortification, in particular the casemates, have been preserved for us today.

The building is a spectacular  mix of modern and ancient, including a section of the old city wall from the 16th Century being incorporated into the design. There are huge arching brick walls and ceilings, opulent rooms that look like the parts of museums that you aren’t allowed to go into, and the most amazing wine cellar eve

The food of course was incredible. There were stations for all kinds of delicacies, and then a dessert bar and huge cheese spread. Too fun. The servers were decked out in lederhosen and dirndls to add to the festivities.

I didn’t want to trot around with a camera at the event, so here are some pictures of the building from the website:

Palais Coburg

Palais Coburg

The main reception and dining area was set up in this hall

The main reception and dining area was set up in this hall

A taste of how the designers incorporated ancient and new

A taste of how the designers incorporated ancient and new

Another opulent area with even more food and drink

Another opulent area with even more food and drink

Well, I’m off to a museum to see what I think is a Van Gogh exhibit. More tomorrow.

It’s ChristkindlMarkt Time Again!

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

[NaBloPoMo update: Well, I didn’t post yesterday so the dream is dead. I’m not super surprised, I must say. I even had the post all written, but didn’t publish it right away as I wanted to check something with Markus. And then bed called hard and fast at about 8:30 last night and I forgot to finish the post off. Oh well. There is always next year.]

On a stroll Friday by the river we noticed the set up for one of the city’s Christmas Markets. So of course that is where we spent our afternoon yesterday.

Christmas markets are such a tradition here and locals and tourists alike look forward to them and plan their weekend around attending. This one is the first to open in the city (I think there will be four main markets), and is not large. It was a beautiful day today, crisp and clear, and the setting by the river was lovely.

As expected, there are booths with handcrafted toys and candles, homemade jams and knitted children’s clothes. And you get to experience all of this while sipping Glühwein, which is hot malted wine. Open alcohol is always a plus and certainly helps  with the patience for the children!

Rebecca didn’t join us this time, but Annie had fun. There was an old-style carousel that Annie and I went on. Definitely the highlight of the day. We also sat for a while at a puppet show and Annie got a few laughs in with the other children, although next year will be better when she is a bit older and her German skills have improved. The petting zoo was a bit of a bust, as the goats were almost full size and a rather intimidating, not like the little critters at Beacon Hill in Victoria.

We snacked on Kiazhl, which is basically deep fried dough. You can top it with icing sugar, cranberry compote or (since this is Austria) sauerkraut. I went with the sweet cranberry option, but will brave the kraut before the season ends. If I don’t like it, I’m sure Annie girl will as she loves cabbage.

This was a lovely way to spend the afternoon and I’m sure it will be a frequent excursion for the next few weeks. The Vienna markets are also suppose to be beautiful, so I’ll be sure to take some pictures from there.

In other winter news, the skating rink around the corner from us should be ready in a week. It is much larger than I thought it would be, as it is just in the center of an open plaza that is basically a walkway to the main strip. We are all going to purchase skates so that we can skip out in the afternoons to do a few laps. I guess I am assuming that Annie will like it. Here’s hoping.

Innsbruck Attractions

Friday, November 14th, 2008

Well, not much to say about today. It was the last day of the Level 2 in German. I can’t believe that 8 weeks have gone by already. (I have learned so much, but have so, so far to go. Oh well…I was due for a challenge in life.) We had a small party and more dancing. I’m going to be a pro at Turkish dancing before this whole thing is done. Not to mention picking up some Turkish phrases; I can already (almost) count to 10.

View of Innsbruck from the 360° Cafe above the City Hall

View of Innsbruck from the 360° Cafe above the City Hall

Since there is no particularly interesting news from my life, I thought I would tell you a little bit more about Innsbruck. I don’t have many recent pictures of the city, so I’ll put some in from previous visits.

Innsbruck became the capitol of Tirol in 1492. I think that the old town (Altstadt) is one of the prettiest I have seen in Europe. The main attraction there is the Golden Roof, which was built in 1500 from 2657 fire-gilded copper tiles. Here is a shot of Beth and George in front of the Golden Roof during their visit in 2006.

The Golden Roof in the Altstadt

The Golden Roof in the Altstadt

And here is a closeup:

The Goldenes Dachl

Das Goldenes Dachl

The Imperial Court (Hofburg) is also an interesting building and has a great museum with displays of historic art, artifacts, jewellery, etc. We have been a couple of times in the past, but I’m due for another visit during our extended stay here. Here is a shot I took a few years ago:

The view from the Olympic ski jump is amazing and this has also become quite the tourist attraction. Innsbruck hosted two Olympics, in 1964 and 1976. Here is a shot of Annie and I when she was a wee babe.

View from the top of the ski jump

View from the top of the ski jump

I’ve already posted about The Alpenzoo and a bit about Scholß Ambras, which are two other great attractions here. And I’m sure I’ll be posting lots about the mountains when ski season hits.

I’m off to pick up Annie, so that is all for today. Tomorrow will also be dull, as I’m just packing for our trip, but I expect next week to be more interesting as we have our jaunt to Vienna. As a taste of what is to come, here is the hotel we are staying at:http: //www.jjwhotels.com/en/grandhotelwien/the_grand_hotel_wien/history.html