Archive for December, 2008

City of Salt

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Markus ‘agreed’ to watch Annie on Saturday (I feel I am owed a few since he was gone for 4 weeks) while Ryan, Renata and I took the train to Salzburg for the day. It is a very comfortable 2-hour trip that took us close to the center of town. It was a cold day but we had dressed appropriately and, after finding a city map, made our way into the Alt Stadt. (Thank goodness for Ryan, because Renata and I have the same disability; not only do we have a terrible sense of direction, but we are quite pushy and adamant that we are correct.)

The city is interesting, but we all agreed Innsbruck is a prettier city (I guess being a smaller city helps.) It was also quite overcast, so that may have affected our opinion.

We walked around the large old town, watching the efficient city workers tear down the last of the Christmas markets. I’m sad to see them go, and the Glüwine with it. We also stopped into 3 churches, one that was quite ordinary, one was small but very elaborate, and the other one was the Domplatz, which was the stunning catherdral in the heart of the city. Here is a shot of the interior and one of the upper dome:

We then poked our heads into a few restaurants for lunch, but decided on an Italian place, which was a great little find (I had tagliatelle with shrimp and veggies in a saffron cream sauce. Yum!)

Our main adventure was going up to Schloß Monschsberg (Hohensalzburg Fortress). It is a medieval castle, which started being built over 1000 years ago. I really enjoy touring medieval castles, and am fascinated by the history of each place. The castle is located at one of the highest points of the city to maximize the security. We took the funicular up from the city center, but probably could have walked it. Here is a shot of the castle from Salzburg city center:

The fortress was reinforced many times over the centuries, and was never captured. It only reverted from the ruling Archbishop’s control when it was peacefully handed over to Napoleon.

As we walked around, I was especially impressed with the doors. Very intricate. I was less interested in the several rooms with WWI memorabilia, but I’m sure that was well done also for those interested in that. Here is a shot of one of the more intricate doors as well as one of the exterior archways:

Ryan and Renata arching in an arch. Ha ha.

Ryan and Hillary arching in an arch. Ha ha.

We walked around the exterior and interior for a while, and then took a 30 minute audio tour which included the torture chamber, artifact room and tower. The views of the city were stunning, and definitely the highlight of the trip. I wish it had been a bit sunnier…and a bit warmer!…but it was still an amazing view.

We managed to catch the 4:30 train home so we could have dinner with Markus and Annie. A great day all around! Here are just some of the many, many pictures Renata, Ryan and I took of the view:

Looking down over Salzburg

Looking down over Salzburg

The hills are alive...wouldn't want to have to climb those mountains to get out of town!

The hills are alive...wouldn't want to have to climb those mountains to get out of town!

Renata on the tower

Renata on the tower

Frohe Weihnachten

Saturday, December 27th, 2008

Merry Christmas to you all!! We had a great celebration, amalgamating some traditions from both Austria and Canada. Rigth now I am just glowing with that warm Christmas feeling, as we just returned from a lovely Christmas concert at a beautiful church. I definitely teared up when the excellent choir boy sang ‘Stille Nacht.’

On Christmas Eve we all sat down for dinner together. Markus made Beef Wellington (this is becoming our family tradition!) with almond crusted potatoes, beans and carrots. Delicious. It was a lively and large crowd. Markus, Rebecca, Annie and I, Susi and Lili, Renata and Franz, Renata’s mom (who is a very upbeat 90 year old), as well as our 4 guests from Canada, our friends Ryan and Renata, and Rebecca’s mom and her partner, Catherine and Katherine. Whew! Here are some shots of everyone:

The family having a lovely Christmas dinner

The family having a lovely Christmas dinner

Markus and me

Markus and me

Rebecca and Opa Franz

Rebecca and Opa Franz

Lili and Annie playing with Lili's new skookum kitchen

Lili and Annie playing with Lili's new skookum kitchen

We were going to open gifts in the Austrian tradition of the 24th, but Annie is getting over a bad flu and conked out early, so we decided to move it to Christmas morning. Good for mommy as well, as I had been up the last 3 nights with Annie so I was certainly ready for bed early.

Christmas morning was a very relaxed affair; Rebecca is old enough to wait and Annie is too young to really understand what is about to happen. We had a calm breakfast and then about 10:00 moved to the living room to open gifts. Annie was very over-represented, as we don’t exchange many gifts with adults and Rebecca was getting ski boots (quite expensive, so that was really the only gift from our side.)

Here is the pre-opening scene. We decided on a little tree (3 flights up with no elevator) and didn’t get organized to purchase a tree-topper, so Catherine worked with Rebecca’s origami and made an awesome substitute.

Before the chaos

Before the chaos

All of us had a little something to open and enjoyed the morning. Annie, like most 2-year olds, wanted to play with whatever was opened, so she really didn’t get to all the gifts until the next day. A very relaxed, sweet Christmas day. But pictures say so much more than words in these kinds of situations.

Santa arrived in Austria to fill the stockings

Santa arrived in Austria to fill the stockings

Annie needed to show each of her gifts to the Teddy Bear Picnic bears (a great gift from Grandma Susan and Grandpa Ken)

Annie needed to show each of her gifts to the Teddy Bear Picnic bears (a great gift from Grandma Susan and Grandpa Ken)

Three cuties

Three cuties

Ryan and Renata

Ryan and Renata

Catherine and Katherine

Catherine and Katherine

Rebecca with her stash

Rebecca with her stash

Mom with Annie and her new guitar

Mom with Annie and her new guitar

More festivities to come!

Just Shut Up and Drive

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

I have been avoiding driving in Europe. It is quite intimidating for me, as people drive faster, the rules are a bit different and also people pass you with only an inch to spare, which really freaks me out. But Markus was loaded down with bags coming from Canada and Franz couldn’t pick him up as he had to work, so my in-laws convinced me to give it a try. I felt I was very brave driving all the way to München, which is about a 2 1/2 hour trip. It ended up being really easy, despite driving in a fairly heavy snowfall. Franz set me up with his GPS, which worked like a charm. It even tells you what lane to be in! And it took me literally to the parking lot for Terminal 2 arrivals. Incredibly specific.

Annie slept the whole way there and Markus flight was only 20 minutes late, so we didn’t have a long time to kill at the airport. It was really great to see Markus after a month away. Annie had this huge smile on her face.

Once we made it back to Innsbruck (I drove home as well), Rebecca was, of course, so excited to see her dad. She is very happy with Markus coming home and then was over the moon when her mom, Catherine, arrived with her partner, Katherine, on Saturday. A real family reunion.

And with my friend Renata and Ryan coming today as well, we are going to have a fun-filled Christmas. Unfortunately, Annie has the flu the last couple of days, so we are hoping she perks up for the festivities tomorrow.

Killing time at Munich airport

Killing time at Munich airport

Dad's home!!

Dad's home!!

I May Be Going Dark

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

Well, my mobile wireless Internet connection has crapped out on me. And the “service” people (heavy sarcasm) need a week to look at it. A week?!! After begging, they gave me a replacement, but I need to download the driver from the web and the instructions are in German. I might have to wait until Markus is back (Saturday) until having a connection. Not pleased. Anyway, it might be a few days until I post again. 

In the meantime, my nerves are starting to wear thin. So, like last time, it is probably a good idea for me to chronicle all the lovely things about Annie that I adore, so as not to dwell on the struggles (like getting dressed, leaving the house, going to bed, eating, breathing, living……..).

Annie loves, loves, loves music. Cousin Lili gave her a plastic purse that plays high-pitched dance music when you press a button. Annie spent a good part of an hour dancing and then marching and then running to the tunes. Too funny. She would need to press the button every minute or so, but of course wanted to do it herself. No help from me please! She did look up imploringly at me saying, irresistibly,: “Do you want to dance with me?”, so we boogied down together for quite a while.

We also have a great game of hiding behind doors these days, which makes us both laugh. She loves to be scared. I hated that as a child, so that is interesting for me. I also hated being tickled, which is Annie’s favourite thing. (She inherited my incredibly ticklish skin.) She will come and lie down on the bed, couch or even floor and look at me with a twinkle in her eye and say, “It’s Tickle Time!!” I think not having sadistic brothers is the difference between Annie and I in this department.

Yesterday we were in one of the bigger city parks and Annie just started going for a walk. I thought it was rather random, but as we didn’t have any real plans, I was happy to follow her lead. But then she finally went down one of the paths that led out of the park and said, “I want to go visit Lili.” I was floored. This was, in fact, the way to walk to Susi and Lili’s place, but we had only gone this route a few times and not for at least a month. What a memory! Unfortunately they weren’t home, so we grabbed a pizza and headed for home instead. She really is a sweet girl, that Annie. (But I’m still going to be glad when Dad gets back!)

And Miles to Go Before I Sleep

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

This road less traveled thing is becoming a bit stale. At least, that is what I felt this morning when I started this post. So much uncertainty, so many decisions to make, so many made that can’t be remade…or undone. I always seem to be drawn to the path of most resistance. I remember once, years back, someone saying to me that they only pursued things that they were good at. I thought, “You can do that?” I hadn’t even considered it. Somewhere deep in my genes I came to believe that if it wasn’t difficult, it wasn’t worth doing. The word ‘deranged’ comes to mind.

But then, I guess, I always become restless and crave change when I mosey down one path for too long. Stabilitiy is a haunting presence for me…calling out for a while and then, just when I am settling in, it starts to poke, poke, poke at me, asking if that is what I really want. The little devil.

I guess I’m improving though. I didn’t become maudlin until after 3 weeks of Markus being away. Last time it was 3 days. We are hoping he can return on the 20th. Sigh.

It is also very irritating that I have trouble sustaining a good depression these days. All these comparative thoughts keep nagging at my brain, trying to get me to perk up and be grateful. No one is pulling off my toenails, no one is telling me I have 10 minutes to pack and leave with my child if I want a chance to flee the country and avoid almost certain peril.

And I’m starting to collect all of these remarkable friends here, which also makes prolonging a satisfying pity-party tough. Yesterday a few people from class came over, which was very nice for me. Senegal, Serbia, France and Egypt were represented. I find my classmates so beautiful and interesting. Would this be the case if we weren’t thrown together in isolated circumstances? I don’t know… I guess that is unknowable.

This morning after a few low, loooooooooong hours, I called up Lauriane and we decided to trek out for lunch with the kids. (She has little Jua, who is 5 months old and a real heart-breaker). Both were asleep for the first part of the meal, which gave us a chance to talk and even gossip a bit. (Mostly in German no less). Jua is pretty much the world’s best baby, so once she woke up she just sat with us and smiled and chewed on anything she could get her hands on (teething, I think.) Annie was so sweet as well, saying that she wanted to sit by Jua. We set her up to hold the babe for a few seconds; wish I had had the camera. Big, big smile. We then went off to feed the ducks and play a bit outside. It was a warm day here so we took advantage of it. One of Lauriane’s friends, who teaches French at the University, met up with us. (She also speaks English, German and Spanish fluently. Of course.) She was so interesting, having studied and lived in England (Oxford) and South America as well as France and Austria. So by the time 5 hours had gone by, I was feeling quite fine about life again.

So maybe this journey is not too much like a pathless woods, and it will be good, both going and coming back.

Seeing Seefeld

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

Well, Annie and I successfully survived a 3-day weekend without Markus. Actually, it went quite well. Friday and Monday were pretty low-key, and then Sunday we went to visit my friend, Ana, in Seefeld (pronounced Zey-feld).

Annie and I met another woman from class, Anna (with 2 n’s) and her 7 year old daughter, Dasha. (They are from Russia and do not really speak English, so it was an all German speaking day pretty much.) We met at the downtown train station and caught the train to Seefeld, which is a little tourist town about 1/2 and hour from Innsbruck.

Annie, of course, loved the train as well as the chance to hang out with another child. Here are pics from our trip there:

Dasha and Annie

Dasha and Annie

Anna

Anna

Ana, our host (1 ‘n’), was quite sad that it wasn’t a sunny day, as we missed seeing the spectacular mountains surrounding the town. But I thought the village was very pretty and really enjoyed spending the time out of the house. I’m sure we’ll be back to check out the view another time.

After a short walk in the core we headed straight to the kiddy hill. Annie and I went tobogganing and Anna pulled Dasha up so she could go skiing. It was really fun, although it was certainly a workout.

After about an hour we returned to Ana’s for lunch and chats. I can now carry on a basic conversation in German, and we were helping each other out when we didn’t understand. Ana speaks Russian and English, so she was the translator when required, although we usually try to figure what everyone is saying using just German.

Annie decided that life was too exciting to have a nap, so she conked out for a bit on the train ride home and then went to bed early. A wonderful day all around.

Here are some more pictures. (Oh yeah, Annie won’t ride on the sled unless it is barreling down a mountain, so I had to push the green strolled through the snow. Poor little stroller will never be the same again!)

The gang in the village

The gang in the village

In front of a pretty building

In front of a pretty building. Apparently Annie isn't into looking at the camera much these days

Mom and Annie enjoying the ride

Mom and Annie enjoying the ride

Hard work pulling your not-so-wee one up the hill

Hard work pulling your not-so-wee one up the hill

Big hugs all around

Ana and Annie (too many An(n)a's here!) Big hugs all around

Nicolaus and Krampuss

Saturday, December 6th, 2008

Winter festivities are in full swing in Austria. They really know how to do the season full-on.

On Thursday Nicolaus came to visit Annie’s kindergarten. I have to say that Kindervilla does an amazing job of acknowledging and educating the children about each of the traditions and celebrations throughout the year. Annie has even been singing Nicolaus songs for the last couple of weeks

Nicolaus is based, of course, on Saint Nicolas, who was Nicolas of Mynra (270 to 346). Myrna is now a part of Turkey. Here is a bit about the history:

Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercessions, he is also known as Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and is now commonly identified with Santa Claus. Nicholas was never officially canonised; his reputation simply evolved among the faithful, as was the custom in his time.

Annie is usually not really a shy child, just a bit reserved around new people or in larger groups of people at first. However, I had to wake her up from her nap to make it in time, so she was a quite clingy. She sat on my lap instead of with the other children, which wasn’t a big deal.

The room was dark and there was a centerpiece of candles. (Again with the candles and toddlers! These people live on the edge let me tell you.) The children did a great job of keeping quiet in preparation for the visit.

When Nicolaus came in, the kids sang songs they had prepared. Annie didn’t participate in that part, although she was in full force afterwards of course. Here is a shot of the robed saint:

Saint Nicolaus

Saint Nicolaus

After a speech (which I’m afraid I didn’t understand) he started to call the children. The kids were suppose to go up, shake hands with Nicolaus, speak a few words and take their sac filled with oranges, nuts and chocolates. Most kids went up with their parents, and of course I thought that I was going to do this with Annie. Here is what is was supposed to look like:

Random child politely receiving gift from Nicolaus

Random child politely receiving gift from Nicolaus

So I was delighted when Annie got up from my lap when called and looked quite willing to go it on her own. I quickly reached for my camera to get a shot of my perfect child in this wondrous moment. Annie, however, decided to perform the McDonald’s drive-thru version of the ceremony, running up, snatching the sac from Nicolaus’ hand and running back to me. The whole thing took less than 2 seconds. She did get a burst of laughter from the crowd. So much for breaking the images of those rude and pushy North Americans. Oh well. And of course, no picture.

Annie decided to cling to me the whole time, so the only picture I did get of her is this one, where I managed to get her to stand a whole 5 centimeters away from me and look at me for 2 milliseconds:

Oh well, I imagine with those blue eyes she has a long life ahead of her getting away with pretty much anything.

Nicolaus day in actually today, December 6th, in Austria. Yesterday was when the evil side of things was celebrated, Krampuss night. Krampuss is a devil-like character who comes to scare children who have been naughty (and you thought getting coal in your stocking was bad!) Here is a shot of some of the Krampuss masks that people wear. Pretty scary!

I kept Annie away from these characters wearing bells around their waists and banging gongs. I don’t think we need to introduce this nightmare-inducing tradition just yet.

Instead we had an impromptu skate night. Opa and cousin Lily were on the ice on the rink around the corner from the hotel when Annie and I just happened to walk by. I rented skates and Annie borrowed the toddler version which fit over her boots. They are great, as they have 2 blades so are more stable.

Annie actually went around the rink with Opa a couple of time (which caused Lily so much stress she is still pouting about it today…MY Opa). And then after a while Annie actually made it one whole length of the boards by herself with me holding out my hands in case she fell. It cracked me up, as she was sort of scared and whining the whole time, but didn’t want me to help her. She has such a forceful independent streak…I’m in trouble already, I can tell. A big improvement for only her second time on the ice. And I had much more fun than when I was basically hauling her around. The bodes well for a fun ice and snow-filled winter ahead.

House Maybe Sold…Emotions Conflicted

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

Well, we had a solid offer on the house, which we have accepted yesterday. We dropped the price by a good lot, because all indications are that the spring is going to be even worse than now.

So, of course, part of me is relieved that we can check this off the list and can pay off some of our bills. But I am also experiencing a fairly large amount of angst over this. Interesting.

I’m sure that this is partly because we had to sell for about $100,000 less than what was going to be our ‘bottom price’ only 7 months ago. It is so close that it is hard not to do the woulda coulda shoulda thing. If we had only dropped the price in the spring, we would likely have at least an extra $50,000 in our pockets right now. Ah well, 20/20 hindsight and all that.

But I am also feeling (perhaps irrationally) like my most tangible connection to Canada has been severed. I guess that (without realizing it) I had in the back of my mind that if things didn’t work out here we would just move back to the house and go from there. With the house gone, everything seems like a bigger decision. Even visiting Victoria becomes more of a challenge. I know, I know that we could always move back and rent a place. But somehow that is different.

And of course it is really hitting me that I won’t be seeing the place again where Annie was born and did all of her ‘firsts’, where Rebecca spent so many years growing up, where Narnia brought in that snake…oh right, that I’d like to forget. As you all know, I wasn’t even in love with our condo, and yet I still feel sadness over seeing it go. As I say, interesting.

Everything else is still up in the air (the Aerie, The Hotel), so it is nice to have one major event (hopefully) behind us. And all of these financial issues have started to make me think about working again. Susi (sister-in-law) let me know that there are a couple of positions in the Marketing department of Swarovski that require a business degree and no other language other than English. And Markus discovered that there is at least one business college that teaches all of their courses in English (although I think I might need a PhD to apply there.) It is making me think hard about what I want to do. I’ll keep you updated.

On the home front, I am still sick as a dog. I forgot to take my ColdFX this morning and almost didn’t make it through class. I dare any of you to try to conjugate verbs in a foreign language when your head is full of cold and throat is blazing sore. Good times. My pharmacist friend from school, Ana, has a homeopathic remedy she is bringing me tomorrow that I really, really hope does the trick. I have so much fun in these classes and am feeling like I am making some progress, so I want to be mentally as well as physically present the rest of the week. I know my family in Vancouver are also suffering from various illness. I wish all of them, and you, good health.