Archive for January, 2009

Sweet, Sweet Guilty Pleasures

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

We all have them…or at least I hope that everyone does. It is just a too much fun part of life. Those things that we would have once been hideously embarrassed to admit about ourselves, but now that we are (way, way) over 30 are just fodder for funny stories. Like the time I was patched into a co-worker’s music play list through the Intranet (how I love technology!) and was listening, again, to a current Britney Spears tune. I pretty much would never, ever, ever, admit to listening to  Britney Spears, and was always thankful that my little bud earphones didn’t let any sound leak out. Except that one morning, when the sound seemed to be so low I could barley hear anything. So I kept turning up the volume on my computer, louder and louder. And louder. Until I realized that the buds were in my ears but the cord wasn’t plugged into the computer so the boppy song was now blaring from my computer speakers. And AbeBooks has an open concept office, sort of like your old science class with everyone sitting at tables together,  not even a grey partition to separate you from 15 other people. Ah, that was a good one.

The last couple of years my guilty pleasure has definitely been the Twilight series which Rebecca got me on to. Once someone observed how much I was enjoying the books and asked if they were really also appropriate for Rebecca. They aren’t appropriate for me I explained, as they were written by a 20-something year old author intended clearly for 16-year old girl audience. No 40-year olds anywhere in this equation. And I’m an English Lit major for crying out loud! Ah, but I love them…obsessed might be too strong of a word. Or might not.

Well, the movie came out in North America a couple of months ago, but was only breaking into theatres mid-January here in Austria. This has been quite a mini-crisis for me, as only some of the blockbusters here come out in English with subtitles, and then only for a couple of showings. I started scouring the theatre listings daily, imagining myself hopping the train to Vienna, or even catching a cheap flight to the UK to make sure I didn’t miss it.

And then last week something caught my eye in the listings for the theatre that showed the most English films. A Sneak Preview that was classified as Fantasy, playing one day before Twilight was starting. I looked into it further, and Sneak Previews are always in original version. Could it be?! Markus called, but the whole point of these showings are that the title is kept a secret. Well, nothing ventured and all that. I skipped to the theatre with great anticipation in the afternoon, and bought tickets for Rebecca and I.

We went early, bought some popcorn and waited impatiently. I was pumped, but of course trying to set myself up to not be disappointed. Well, when the first line played, that was it. Rebecca, who had watched the first few minutes online, knew that it was Twilight. I gave her a high five (which she only somewhat embarrassedly returned) and we settled in to enjoy. I can’t comment if it was, by any objective standard, a good movie. I’m suspecting it was only in the middling range, but I really couldn’t say as I had just so much fun.

And so that sums up one of the realities of living in another country. Most things, if not everything, is harder. But even the most simple outings can become an adventure if you are open to it. Even when they are just a little bit inappropriate.

Sometimes 4 Rooms Just Isn’t Enough

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

Last Friday: My head is laid with defeat on my forearm stretched across the toilet, waiting for the next violent release. I’m thinking ‘I can’t wait until at least lunch is gone’, (5 hours later the hideous dry heaves make me reconsider), but I’m also coherent enough to be aware of the world around me, and I laugh just a little bit. My retching has been, I’m aware, very loud in our little clou outside the kitchen. Markus is just outside in the hall on the phone to Canada trying to piece together a million plus deal. Annie is crying out loudly for Mommy or Daddy. And Rebecca is practicing her viola, which she hasn’t played in, well, too many months. Oh my goodness, sometimes what I wouldn’t give for our almost 3000 sq. feet of space that we had back in Canada. A pain to clean but at least there was somewhere to hide. Sigh.

Annie was sick last Wednesday and pretty much was throwing up on me all night, so it really isn’t that surprising I came down with it a few days later. I’m feeling fine now, but it took all weekend to get my strength back. And now Rebecca has a bad cold.

But what does all of this really mean? You guessed it, oh faithful Reader…Markus has headed back to Canada. Luckily the worst was over before he got on the plane, which I was thoroughly grateful for. I’m not sure what disturbing kind of Karma I’ve managed to stir up here, but our health seems to immediately and drastically deteriorate as soon as Markus decides to leave. I guess Freud would have something to say about that.

The first day I was just in the foulest mood; after I snapped at my friend, Ana, in class for the 5th time she graciously offered to take me for lunch to talk. That helped a lot. And today I am free from school and plan on spending most of it in bed re-reading an easy fantasy novel, so that is also good.

And of course, I watched the Obama Inauguration last night. All that talk of picking yourself up and dusting yourself off and getting to work is seeping in a bit. He really is a powerful speaker. I was a big Hillary Clinton fan, not against Obama but just so excited about the possibility of a strong female leader. But now I think that, for these times, someone completely new and ready to at least try to solve the big problems in a different way is the right choice.

And so I’ll try to take those words to heart and do what I can to help this little family move forward. Hopefully Markus will only be gone 2 weeks, and hopefully none of us will come down with anything else in that time. My astrology chart said I would have one of the hardest times of my life at the end of 2008, but then things would pick up in 2009. Anytime those planets want to get on with that change is just fine with me.

My Guitar Gently Weeps

Monday, January 12th, 2009

Life has been quite a bit quieter since all of our guests have returned home. I had all kinds of plans last week, as Annie was in daycare for 4 of the days but I hadn’t started school yet. Mostly tasks were left undone in favour of sleeping, reading and trying to walk off come of the ridiculous amount of chocolate eaten.

We have had several very, very stressful days around money, as our current source of income is quickly drying up. But after much discussion we have decided to dive into running The Hotel here in Innsbruck and see if that can support us. The owner still won’t give us the green light to develop or renovate, so we are going to just try to fill the hotel and slowly update the rooms as we have the cash. Currently the hotel isn’t marketed at all…no website, no brochures, no association affiliation, no hotel network…so lots of room for improvement. If something bigger works out, that will be a bonus at this point.

I have also contacted some of my Canadian colleagues to see if I can scrounge up some contract writing work that I could do remotely. I wouldn’t mind having a bit more on my plate right now.

Annie, of course, is blissfully unaware of any of this, which is such an excellent reminder of perspective and what is important in the world. It is a bit of music mania here, as Annie doesn’t often let go of her new guitar, and Rebecca has decided to join the orchestra so we just rented her a viola to play. So when I get too stressed I just look at these pictures and they really make me smile. Life is still very good.

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Our Italian Adventure

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

Only a couple of days, and I already am missing Ryan and Renata like a limb. I can’t properly describe how great it was to be able to chat with friends who I have known for so many years (Ren and I met about 20 years ago) and can have easy, free flowing conversations in English. And yet, interestingly, their visit made me feel like Innsbruck was really my home, at least right now. I enjoyed showing them the city and area, and felt proud I could get by in the language, at least in shops and restaurants.

Markus and I are also going to miss the laughs. With all of our incredible life stresses these days, we are experiencing a real dearth of humour here. And Ryan and Ren are just hilarious, with Renata’s filterless tales and Ryan’s dry, quite comments…or unexpected poses, as seen here. Ah, I’ll miss those laughs.

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But now that they have returned to Canada, I have a few moments to post about one of our last adventures together, a trip to Trento in Italy. Our original plan was to visit Schloß Tirol again, but it was closed over the holidays. Markus suggested Trento, as we have gone to Sudtirol a few times, which is very much like Austria (having been part of Austria until relatively recently). He thought we would like a taste of a more traditional Italian province and we certainly did.

The architecture of Trento has a very different feel. The area has been inhabited for thousands of years, and many of the buildings were clearly several hundred years old. Here is a shot of the city square, where you can see the buildings with the ubiquitous shutters as well as a part of the old cathedral.

Trento city center

Trento city center

After a tasty pasta lunch and a stroll through the city to get our bearings, we decided to tour the Castellodel Buonconsiglio , which is a 13th Century castle erected next to the city walls. It was an interesting tour including a temporary exhibit of Rembrandt’s sketches (not our cup of tea in terms of art, but still an experience to see).

My favourite part was a multiple room exhibit of the maps through the centuries, particularly those related to routes to the Orient. The progress of how civilization viewed the world is fascinating. The exhibit displayed the sailors’ tools (compasses, ship logs) as well as a sample of the treasures that were brought back from China.

We also slipped into the wine cellar, and looked at the beautiful barrels among the ancient arches.

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After a quick slice of pizza (tasty, but a bit doughier than anticipated), we made our way home. This sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well, we had decided to take the car again, so this was officially my second driving trip in Europe. Unfortunately, the GPS wasn’t available, so we were on our own with a map and a prayer. We made it to the city following Markus’ directions with only a few missteps, but getting home was another story. The chaotic Italian bureaucracy is legendary, and this was proved in point by the incredibly unclear or simply missing signage for how to get back on the highway. It took us about an hour to find our way out, including several stops at gas stations and stores to ask directions. The worst part was trying to merge onto a 2-lane thoroughfare at night, with the lights coming at me very fast and the cars behind me very impatient. Or maybe the worst was the speedy Italian drivers, who completely ignore the 130 km speed limit, so between the trucks and the sports cars there was at least a 100 km difference in speed which needed to be accounted for when passing another vehicle. Or maybe the worst is that the drivers weave between lanes for no apparent reason. (This was later confirmed by Markus as a common driving practice in that part of the world. Super.) I got a few more grey hairs but we did, finally, arrive home unscathed.

It was a great day overall, and an amazing holiday season. I think that Ryan and Renata were sent away with lots of European stories to tell. Now I just need you (yes you!) to come visit me here so we can have more adventures together.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

I know that my Canadian friends on the West Coast have seen just about enough of the white stuff, but here in Innsbruck the city is very excited about winter sports. Although I wasn’t sure how my first winter in 10 years was going to be, I’m happy to report I have been enjoying myself in this winter wonderland. Since I’m behind on tracking our fun and adventures with Ryan and Renata from Victoria, I’ve decided to combine all of the snow-based activities into one fun-filled post. Unfortunately, these all took place when Rebecca was touring Italy with her mom and Katherine, so no pictures of her.

Our first trip was to Küthai to go tobogganing. It was a beautiful day with clear skies, although it was a bit cold. We all bundled up, including Annie, and trekked the mountain to the lodge. I think one of my favourite parts of this day was realizing how much better shape I am in than 3 years ago when I last made this same hike. Yeah for me! Coming down was hilarious…I am getting much braver after a few runs this year. Soon I’ll be as scarily fast as Markus and Annie!

Bundled up

Bundled up

Ready to go in matching hats!

Ready to go in matching hats!

Beautiful...but that is a long way down!

Beautiful...but that is a long way down!

The next winter-related adventure was a visit to the ski jumping run. I bailed that day (I can’t even remember what I was doing at this point), but had to include some pictures of the beautiful view of the city.

Dad and the bunny

Dad and the bunny

Beautiful Innsbruck way, way down

Beautiful Innsbruck way, way down

Those ski jumpers are crazy

Those ski jumpers are crazy

I have to say one of my favourite days of this holiday was finally getting onto downhill skis for the first time this season. We had been seeing guests at the hotel and folks around town clearly heading off for a day on the hills, so we were all quite excited to join in.

We went up to Axamer Lizum, which is about a 45 minute bus ride from door to door. The bus system is very sophisticated here, picking up guests at all of the downtown hotels and dropping them off at various ski areas around the province. Markus was working so it was just Ryan, Ren and I. (Annie spent the day in daycare, as I’m not a good enough skier to try to teach her. She’ll have to wait for Markus.)

We started out on the learner hill a couple of times, as it has been a while for all of us. We then tried the blue run (the easiest), which is quite a bit harder than the easy runs on Mt. Washington or Whistler. Our first time down it took us about 45 minutes, and about 30 minutes the second run. Renata looked up the times for the women’s downhill (which took place on the runs we were on) and they finished the course in less than 2 minutes. My greatest concern with this is that Annie or Rebecca will want to take up ski racing if we stay here a few years. Shudder. But anyway, we all survived (I have a massive ugly bruise on one hip from a wipe out, but nothing serious), and lived to enjoy  a hearty lunch at the top of the mountain. Beautiful.

On top of the world

Ready for the real run

Trying to look like we know what we are doing

Trying to look like we know what we are doing

The mountains are stunning

The mountains are stunning

O.K…just 2 more activities to go! We took Ryan and Renata to beautiful Seefeld (about a half hour outside of Innsbruck) to go cross country skiing, as it is supposed to have some of the best runs in the area. They had a good day getting their exercise while Markus, Annie and I enjoyed a fun day at the pool (with just one not fun moment on the water slide that was too crazy for Annie, but we all survived and recovered.)

And finally, Ren, Ryan, Markus and Annie went to the Olympic oval to try their hand at skating. Despite brutally unsharp skates, they still enjoyed the exercise. I think we are all going to need a few days to recover from all the adventures…whew!

I guess I didn’t download the photos from Renata’s camera from Seefeld, but here some cute shots from the oval.

Skating queen

Skating queen

The pro

The pro

Getting more comfortable every time

Getting more comfortable every time

In With a Bang

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

My goodness I’m really behind on my blog. I’m so busy living my life I don’t have time to chronicle it. A good thing, really. Since its stale date is quickly approaching, I think I’ll start with New Year’s and then fill in the other days later.

New Year’s Eve is called Silvester here in Austria. The big party in Innsbruck is outdoors, with 3 stages around the inner core playing various music, both live and canned. The main stage is in front of the city bridge and powers out pop tunes from Austria, NA and Italy (lots of Italians at the celebration.) The two hosts called out in 3 languages to keep everyone involved. We (Ryan and Renata, Catherine and Katherine, Markus and I) got to this location early, as Markus knew that they close access to the main area around 11:30. Of course, in Austria drinking on the street is completely acceptable, so we enjoyed Glüwine and Orangen-punsch while munching on tasty pizza. At around 11:00, the (C)Katherines went back to the apartment to watch the fireworks from the balcony with Rebecca, who had offered to babysit Annie.

I was feeling pretty tired around 10:00, and wasn’t sure I’d make it, but perked up at 11:00, especially when the crowds really started rockin’. There were about 30,000 people around the area, so it certainly was a good party. Luckily, the night was clear and not too cold.

Although the official fireworks don’t start until midnight, regular folk can purchase fireworks, (and here I thought they were a dangerous fire hazard), so there was one shot off every few minutes for over an hour, with the rate increasing the closer to midnight we got. After the countdown, the city fireworks started. Incredible! First there was a display on the mountain at Seegrube, about 2000 meters above sea level. Every time a blast went off, the snowy mountains were lit up as a stunning background. These lasted about 10 minutes, and then the fireworks from the bridge in front of us started and continued for another 20 minutes. I’m used to pretty modest displays in Victoria, so these ones blew me away. So many stunning designs and huge explosions. A very special time.

Here are some pictures of the evening taken by Cams, Renata’s camera, with my first try at posting a blog video of a couple of minutes of the fireworks from the bridge. I hope we all have a happy, successful and healthy 2009.

Catherine (Rebecca's mom) and Katherine

Catherine (Rebecca's mom) and Katherine

Enjoying the night

Enjoying the night


Silvester Fireworks 2008 from Hillary Samson on Vimeo.