Archive for June, 2009

Kaiserfest in Kufstein

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Last weekend we attended a large street festival in Kufstein, a smaller town about 45 minutes away from Innsbruck. My friend, Nicole, lives there and invited us down, good-naturedly spending the day with a hyper toddler. It was raining on and off (and sometimes ‘on’ in squalls), but there was so much to do and so much awesome Austrian junk food to eat (mmmm, fried cheese and beer) that we managed to stay out for five hours.

This was the first time I have visited Kufstein, whose city center is guarded over by a 12th Century castle.

Festung Kufstein

Festung Kufstein

I never quite figured out what the celebration was for, but the city had done a great job of dedicating the city to the festivities.

There was a very large kids play area, with toys, 2 playgrounds, tractor rides (Annie only lasted 30 seconds on that…tears ensued when a little boy smashed into her tractor), drawing easels, a small train that toured around the festival, and face painting. We hit the face painting first, as there wasn’t yet a line-up. Annie told us she wanted to be a lion. That kid already has very well-formed opinions. (See my tweet from this morning.)

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She looks sad here, but she actually loved the final results. Always a bit withdrawn with strangers...for the first 10 seconds anyway.

She looks sad here, but she actually loved the final results. Always a bit withdrawn with strangers...for the first 10 seconds anyway.

As Annie gets bigger, my hardest dilemma is how much to protect her. She is so independent and so never  wants to hold my hand or walk by my side. In big crowds it tends to freak me out, but I know it is important for her development. She had a blast, as a budding ham does, running ahead and then waving back at us with a little wiggle and dance.

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Working on her jazz hands.

There isn’t much else to tell, as I spent pretty much every minute I wasn’t watching Annie play eating and drinking. I’m starting to feel like a real Austrian! Annie fell asleep on the ride home and was out for the night, which was great as I conked out early too. Apparently there are festivals in one area or another pretty much every weekend of the summer. My arteries are clogging just thinking about it. Tomorrow…hiking.

Annie Get Your Shot

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

The other day Annie asked to take some pictures with my camera. She has had a semi-obsession with cameras since watching the Elmo video (again and again) that talks about taking pictures. She went around the house saying: “Now I’m taking a picture of my giraffe, now I’m taking a picture of the chair, now I’m taking a picture of mommy.” Hilarious.

Here are the some of the shots of the world from a toddler’s view. Interesting angles and, of course, mostly blurry; tough for a little girl to stop moving. These are going to make a great scrapbooking page!

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One for the 800-year-old Road

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Well, my social life seems to be picking up here. I went out drinking three times in a week. In a week! I’ve gone a year without that much alcohol. And it was a blast.

Friday night we went to the apartment of one of Markus’ high school buddies, Wolfgang. (I seriously live in a place populated with people called Wolfgang and nobody bats an eye.) We have met up with he and his wife, Iris, a couple of times with their two children: Pia, who is 2 and their newborn baby boy, Paul. They made an amazing dinner and we drank loads of wine, finishing off with a shot of Grappa at the end. I remembered from somewhere that a big glass of water and a Tylenol before bed helps with the hangover. (Or ‘being blue’ as they call it here.) They don’t seem to have Tylenol in Austria (they still mostly take Aspirin….weird) so I substituted an Ibuprofen and called it a night. Although tired, I made it through the next day without too many problems.

Saturday night (that is the next night!) I went out for dinner, drinks and…wait for it…dancing with my sister-in-law Susi and her friend Verena. What a total blast. I actually found a decent margarita and downed a couple of those before switching to wine. We went to a bar that wasn’t entirely populated by 18-year-olds and just danced the night away. I shockingly saw 3 a.m. from the other side (instead of being woken up that early).

And then on Wednesday we had our last German class of the semester, so we went out for drinks. (I’d say ‘afterwards’ but we acutally only stayed in class for about half an hour before we cut out for the bar. Love that adult education.) I chose to imbibe sweet Radlers this time, which are a very tasty mix of beer and lemonade. My teacher is also a singer in a band and so he was reciting his song lyrics to me to make sure that the English grammar was correct. They actually were very good; it must be tough to write metaphorical, rhyming lyrics in a foreign language. Tricky. Unfortunately, unlike most people’s experience, my German gets much worse when I am drunk. I did manage to slur together a couple of gutteral conversations with non-English speakers, but then called it a night.

This all really makes me appreciate, yet again, how great it is to live in the city center. I can go out, drink til I’m woozy and still stumble home over the cobblestone streets in a couple of minutes. If this is my 40-year mid-life crisis, I’ll take it.

Home Friends: Part 2

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Back in Victoria my longest visits were with friends who were able to help out with the packing. Ryan and Renata were heroes, lending me their car, their awesome strength and their patience. They kept me motivated and on track. Plus we managed to have some good laughs and even dinner at my favourite Saigon Nights (mmmm #20…I know the rest of you love #18, but my heart can’t be swayed.) R & R occasionally threaten to move to Europe to work; I can only hope.

One set of Rebecca’s grandparents, Ken and Susan, also came down from Mill Bay a couple of times to lend a hand. Susan is warm and wonderful, and Ken will do anything to help out. Over the last three years they have become much-loved grandparents to Annie as well. I was just overwhelmed with how much they helped me out. It was such an incredible outpouring of goodwill. The first day they came over I put them to work on the kitchen, thinking that this could be a medium-sized, self-contained job. Um, well, it turned out to be a massive four-hour marathon for us (mostly the two of them…I just answered questions occasionally as I focused on other rooms.) It was a huge weight off for me once it was done and I can’t thank them enough. They moved, packed, carted things away and even cut the lawn. Crazy kindness.

My friend Rose came with her packing advice, moving supplies and cleaning skills extraordinaire. She listened fearlessly as my stress level peaked. (Did I mention that amongst all of this I had to negotiate a settlement with the contractor we were having a disput with over our home renovations, because Markus couldn’t get back to Canada for the court date? And the contractor’s wife is his lawyer, who I imagine is a very nice person most of the time but clearly hates us and wasn’t afraid to pretty much scream at me over the phone?) Rose has always been my touchstone, reminding me of what is important in the world.

And Stacey…wonderful, beautiful Stacey. She helped with the moving and cleaning, storing boxes and my piano, letting me stay with her when I had no bed, letting me bail on our plans without complaining so that I could pack more, was completely supportive yet helped me to keep things in perspective. How did I get so lucky to have such a friend?

I also enlisted Stacey’s awesome husband, Andrew, to help me with the bags and boxes from our attic office, which has very steep, rickety, fold-away stairs. (Let’s face it, I’m prone to accidents. I try not to use the word ‘clumsy’, which is an accurate term at 12 and endearing at 20, but just ridiculous and a bit weird at 40. Nonetheless, there aren’t many people who break their elbow falling off a bike while going for a leisurely ride by the river, so I thought those stairs may be the death of me.) He skillfully managed (drawing on his experience as a reservists with the Navy) and helped without complaining, even though I learned towards the end that he had a bad back. Um, sorry about that Andrew. And thanks!

With all of that help, as well as throwing money at the problem by hiring movers for two days, garbage/recycling collectors, and a yard work cleanup crew, I was able to squeeze in visits with some friends.

Sue, who I’ve connected with a great deal in the last year through our blogs and online chatting, (but not Facebook…she is a conscientious objector) kindly threw an AbeBabes gathering in her great new home. We were celebrating the arrival of Marci’s gorgeous baby boy, Archer. AbeBabes is our version of a book club, minus the books. All of us worked at AbeBooks at one point, although I think only 2 or 3 are still there. (It has been about 5 years since our first gathering.) It is a great group and I’m thrilled we still make the effort to get together.

Sue and Cathy and their children were a big part of my first year as a mom. We were all on maternity leave at the same time and had many, many lunches and get togethers, which certainly helped to keep me sane. And Antoinette has been fantastic about keeping in touch this last year, despite a busy time with her she-ought-to-be-in-pictures daughter. It was so much fun to see all of the children a year later. Crazy how much they have changed, of course.

And I loved catching up with people I haven’t talked to in a year…it sounds like such a long time! So many changes with jobs and relationships and homes and dreams. Too much fun. Marci and I got a chance to chat quite a bit. We are both moms who need to work (psychologically and emotionally rather than just financially), so we shared our stories about the ups and downs of that adventure.

And I even remembered to click some pics (what a beautiful group of women!!):

Marci with the guest of honour, Archer

Marci with the guest of honour, Archer

Stacey and Archer...that happy baby was help by everyone

Stacey and Archer...that happy baby was held by everyone

Janice and Kathy

Janice and Kathy

Antoinette, Maisha and Ange

Antoinette, Maisha and Ange

Cathy and Marci

Cathy and Marci

Gracious host Sue with sweet Amy

Gracious host Sue with sweet Amy

I manged a quick lunch with our wonderful friend Beth. (Whenever Annie sees their picture on the computer, she says in sing-song voice: “I love Beth and George.”) Beth was ridiculously busy at work and I know she felt bad about not being able to help with the move. But it was lovely to get a chance to catch up in person. Annie will be so excited to see her in August.

Some of the crew from the Marketing department at AbeBooks met me at Spinnakers for lunch. It was great to catch up with them and hear all the latest news about everyone’s lives. The company hasn’t changed much since it was purchased by Amazon, so we mostly talked about families and travel, soon-to-be babies and new relationships. I miss all of them. Here is a picture of the group, minus Beth, who had to leave a bit early and Julie, who ducked out when her beautiful new baby, Georgia, started to get sleepy.

Shauna, Michael, Maria, Heather and Kathleen

Shauna, Michael, Maria (with baby-to-be), Heather and Kathleen

Easily the most hilarious time I had on this visit was with Jennie, Sheenagh and Karen. We all worked together at Taylor Personnel many years ago, and every time we get together my stomach hurts from laughing after about 2 minutes. One of the few pictures I have up on the wall in Innsbruck is of the four of us (all looking gorgeous, of course) at our regular haunt, Cafe Mexico. We would get together every few weeks, and it is one of the things I am most homesick for living in Europe.

My calm in all of the storm was definitely the dinner I had with our friends, Arleen and Chris. They invited me to their beautiful house and we ate a delightful meal in their garden. (I experienced a real shock with how big and beautiful the homes are in Canada…including my own house on Richmond…as we currently live in a small, desperately-needs-to-be-renovated apartment here in Innsbruck. But hey, location, location, location.) I talked their ears off and hope someday they will recover enough to invite me back. They are coming to Innsbruck with their two girls at the beginning of July. We are totally stoked to visit and show them our beautiful part of the world.

I also squeezed in a tea with Monica, who I met during my stint at the Mary Street apartments. Monica is an Across The Water fan. (O.K., she is a fan of the pictures and videos of Annie, but I’ll take it.) She is funny and interesting and also a world traveller; I’m hoping that she makes it to our part of the globe next year. Monica also makes and sells lovely beaded jewellery, so I got some craft-talk time in as she gave me a tips on perfect wire wraps. (I know this is soooooo interesting to the rest of you.) I actually remembered to take a picture of Monica; here she is in front of her house:

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I did miss out on seeing Kyra, which was quite disappointing. I was a little too optimistic and scheduled a visit with her for the Monday before I left. Yeah, so that didn’t happen. I was really looking forward to seeing her and catching up. Kyra has been awesome with keeping in touch since I have been far, far away. It is impossible to describe how important messages and contact from home friends is when you abandon your old life for a new one. Not to mention that she has the best Facebook photos, which always keep me interested. Kyra will be first on the list to see in August.

Whew. Great to see everyone but glad to be done. So, are you moving? I have some serious karma to pay forward, so give me a call and I’m there with a smile on.

**Update: Now I’m starting to get messages from all of the people who I said I would visit, but didn’t. Or those friends who live in Victoria but I didn’t even contact. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’m pleading insanity, overwork, stress, poor planning. Please, please let me make it up to you in August. I’ll be in Victoria on the 19th and will buy you a coffee. Promise this time.

Home Friends: Part 1

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

As you may know, I spent the last two weeks of May in Canada. I was there to pack up our house, it having finally sold. (The closing date is the end of June.) It was a lot of work. Really an unimaginable amount of work. I walked around the house the first night I arrived and just went, “I’M SCREWED!!” But of course in the end, with much help from friends, it was done. I whittled our lives down to one small storage locker. (O.K….Stacey is storing a few boxes as well. Oh and my electric piano. And the (K)Catherines have our flat screen T.V. Still not much.) If we do end up moving back to Canada in the near future, I guess we will be experiencing the famous “fresh start,” as we pretty much have nothing left there but some books, a computer (nowhere to sleep, but we’ll be connected…priorities people), Annie’s toys and clothes that I haven’t been able to part with yet, and some kitchen utensils. What else does anyone need? Yikes.

I had visions of packing a bit each day, visiting with friends, seeing English movies nightly, and going for long walks by my much-missed ocean. Right. For most of my 9 days in Victoria I basically woke up at 4:00 each morning in a panic and started filling boxes. I did try to see at least one friend each day, and managed to carve out time to see one movie with Renata. (Illuminati. I think it was a good flick; my perception is possibly flawed since it just felt so great to be surrounded by all of that English.)

Thankfully, I had planned on spending 4 days in Vancouver to visit my brother’s family and some friends. My timing couldn’t have been worse, as they were in the last days before they had to move from their house. (I called myself the house guest from hell, but they were all good natured about it.) But I really enjoyed seeing Ian and Lynne and my three awesome nephew/nieces. (Why isn’t there an amalgamated word in English for nieces and nephews, like ‘siblings’? An irritating lexicon hole.) I got to see the shell of their new house (it is being completely renovated), which is going to be amazing. It is on a cul-de-sac and sits on a huge lot with a forest-like ravine behind. Annie and I are going to have a blast when we visit in August.

Evan, Emma and Amie pretending to be asleep. Poor Amie has a broken elbow.

Evan, Emma and Amie pretending to be asleep. There are lots of games amongst these three.

Emma at swimming lessons.

Emma at swimming lessons. She is a very good athlete.

Amie was very brave with her broken elbow. Unlike her Aunt when she had a broken elbow and was screaming in the ER.

Amie was very brave with her broken elbow. Unlike her Aunt when she had a broken elbow and was screaming in the ER.

Sporty Evan taking a final slapshot at the old house.

Sporty Evan taking a final slap shot at the old house.

In terms of friends, I had great plans to take pictures of everyone to post on the blog. But I just couldn’t stop talking long enough to remember to do that, so I only have a few to show. As I mentioned in my last post, it is just different to have a conversation with someone who has learned your own language from birth. I didn’t realize what I was missing until I had it back. It was like I hadn’t noticed my left arm was gone, and then it suddenly returned and life was so much better and easier and whole.

My first visit in Vancouver was with Vern. I hadn’t seen him for at least a year. Vern suggested that we attend the BC Food Fair, which sounded great to me. I met him at the Olympic clock in front of the museum…Olympic fever is really heating up in the city.

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We ate our way through a very tasty couple of hours. I had been there at least an hour and had a spicy taco from the Mexican stand before I remembered about swine flu. I imagine that a large gathering of people eating questionally heated food might not have been the best idea in terms of fending off communicable diseases. Oh well. All’s well that doesn’t end in hospitalization. And, as always, Vern made me laugh and feel great about myself. The best kind of friend to have.

Vern kindly walked me to the bus stop where, after a short ride, I connected with my friend Lesli. I’ve known Lesli for many years, since the first or second year I lived in Victoria. She wrote some great articles for the ill-fated Pacific Island Gourmet and we took an alternative healing classes together. (Way ahead of ‘The Secret’ curve.)

Lesli is a brilliant communications specialist working for the city in support of the Olympics. We often talk about working together, as we think our skills would complement each others. Maybe someday. She is one of those friends where we can listen and talk and interrupt and finish each other’s sentences all at the same time. I love that. And miss that.

The next day I met up with Alexander for a walk on the beach. We were going to take a walk by the beach, but my sandal gave out so we went barefoot on the sand. The very hot sand. As good as a pedicure I think.

I met Alex a few years back at a yoga retreat on Vancouver Island (she was the instructor). She has this amazing balance between alternative beliefs and down-to-earth practicality that is just completely inviting. We haven’t spoken for a while so it was wonderful to catch up on each other’s lives and loves and dreams for the future. I can talk about anything with her without ever feeling judged. That is a rare gift indeed.

The last night the five ‘Vancouver Samsons’ were moving into Lynne’s mother’s one-bedroom apartment, where they will live for a month while the new house is being finished. So I moved over to Steve and Jodi’s place.

I met Steve doing my MBA at UVIC. He, John Turner (not the PM) and I did most of our projects togther. I learned more working with those two smarties than I did from my classes. (If you ask Steve about working with me, he will make some joke about my ability to make coffee or me crying too much, so don’t bother.) And I met the very lovely Jodi through Steve. They were dating at the time but are now married and living in a great apartment in Yaletown. (Complete with the Hillary Samson guest suite.)

Steve and Jodi always steer me towards some tasty places to eat…there are hundreds to choose from in the area. (I think many people in Yaletown subscribe to the Carrie Bradshaw philosophy of kitchen use; the oven is used for extra storage). I was having a Mexican craving, as that isn’t available in Innsbruck (some restaurants claim to have Mexican here, but it is totally inedible) and managed to fit in two Mexican meals. Yum!

Oddly, no video games were played while I was visiting. I think that is the first time. Steve has been in the video game industry for many years, and always has the latest games on all of the platforms. I remember visiting one time and pretty much forcing them to just play Wii with me the whole weekend. But they are good sports. I guess my need to talk and hang out with friends overroad my gaming addiction this visit.

And I sure did enjoyed talking with them very much about life in Canada and Europe. And about the biz. Steve started a company, Pug Pharm, about a year ago and is working on releasing the first online game title. I have been helping a bit remotely from Innsbruck and it has been great to reconnect with the corporate world. We would both like to work together (despite the coffee comments) so are hopeful that this can turn into something more permanent. Working for a Canadian company from Europe would be the best of both worlds for me. Here’s hoping.

Jodi thankfully found a deal on the float plane back to Victoria, so I saved myself the 6 hour ferry/bus/taxi ride and was able to squeeze in another meal with them. If our lives bring us to Vancouver to live (anything is possible at this point), it will be so comforting to know we have amazing friends there. I am very lucky.

A Long Ovedue Post

Friday, June 12th, 2009

I think you can probably relate. Sometimes life just goes a bit South and there is something you have been meaning to do, want to do, but it just doesn’t happen. There isn’t really any explanation…’no time’ just  doesn’t cut it. But that creative energy that it takes me to write, even a simple blog post, sometimes just seems to seep away. (I really wish it would leave a forwarding address, but no; I just have to wait for it to return from whatever excursion it decided to go on.) I managed to pull it together for Annie’s birthday, but there hasn’t been much action before or since that. I am getting on track again (at least for the time being) and really want to capture a visit from a good friend, so I’m taking you all back, way back, to several weeks ago when I could still take shots of snow.

My lifelong friend, Shannon, and I were best buddies down at West Hawk Lake where our families both had cottages. The summers of my childhood spent in the Canadian Shield were almost idyllic, with constant swimming, water skiing, boating, sailing, visiting with friends and even cliff jumping! Ah, youth.

Shannon was in Europe at the end of April as she was attending a wedding of a friend from her time working in the U.K. She only spent a few days in London, though, and I was thrilled when she decided to spend the majority of her trip with us in Austria.

Shannon and me on our balcony

Shannon and me on the balcony

Of course, we talked and talked. I really do miss having long conversations in-person with native English speakers as well as long-time friends. It is just different and fills a place in my soul that nothing else can.  Unless a actually live in an English-speaking country for an extended period, like Markus did, the nuances of the language are just not there for non-native speakers, and makes whatever you are talking about less interesting and more difficult to express. I’m sure the people I interact with here find it to be the same when I am using my mangled German.

It is so fun to show friends the city where you live when you reside in a beautiful part of the world. I always enjoyed that in lovely Victoria as well. We walked around the old town (1o months and counting and still every time I walk amongst those 800-year old buildings I think, “I live here??!!”) and ate at some of the great, simple restaurants, cafes and bakeries.

And of course, life goes on with a busy family of a teenage and a toddler, but Shannon joined right in and even graciously shot some photos.

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No teenagers were hurt in the shooting of this photo

No teenagers were harmed in the shooting of this photo

The inevitable playground time regardless of who is visiting.

The inevitable playground time regardless of who is visiting.

But there were definitely adventures. Shannon, who took full advantage of the mountains when she lived in Europe, did manage to get in a morning of figle skiing (short metal skis used in springtime…no poles) with Markus. I think they had a blast, although there were some nerve wracking moments from all accounts (and facial expressions.)

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Our big adventure together was taking the train to Salzburg. I’ve been there before with friends Ryan and Renata, and managed to, yet again, choose a day that was pouring rain and cold. Oh well. We did see a fairly different side to the city than the first time I was there, so that was great for me. I actually thought that Salzburg was a bit deary, but as we walked along the river this time the buildings we saw were gorgeous. Large and colourful and beautifully designed.

On our walk from the train station into town we checked out the intricate gardens at Schloss Mirabell. Even in the rain they were impressive. I ripped this pic from wikipedia…weird how it looks overcast as well. (It is better larger, so I suggest clicking on the image.)

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Instead of visiting the inner city castle, Hoshensalzburg, we decided to trek out to Helbrunn Palace. And I do mean trek. We were using a small tourist map as navigation, and it looked very walkable from the inner city. Well, not so much. After about half an hour we were looking around us feeling a bit lost when a nice passerby asked if we needed help. I was quite proud that my German was up to asking for and receiving directions, although it was clear that we would be walking for at least another 40 minutes to get there. In the rain. Oh well…we were this far along, so might as well go for it. It actually was an interesting journey down a country lane lined with fields, trees and the occasional turn of the century buildings (the other century.)

Once we arrived at the palace we were told that we needed to join a guided tour to go through the fountains, so we looked in the small palace while we waited. Built in the 1600’s, Hellbrun was strictly a day palace for royalty coming out from the city, therefore no bedrooms. The main attraction of the area is beautiful natural springs that a frisky and obviously humorous Prince-Archbishop Markus Sittikus von Hohenems employed to construct an intricate system of trick fountains. Using detailed architecture, guests would be drawn into an area, grotto or garden, and then the Prince would activate a switch to soak everyone. For example, while dining guest would all of a sudden have a very wet bottom. Oh, those rascally royals.

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One of the most impressive features to me was the mechanical theatre, with 200 water-driven figures depicting the life of a small Baroque city. Unbelievable when you realize there are no computers and all movement of the tiny villagers is driven by the flow of water.

But truly one of the nicest things about being with visitors in this part of the world is just enjoying the beautiful scenery and mountains. Shannon commented that it was like a postcard everywhere you looked. A giant movie set blue-screen follows you around on which is constantly projected images of snow-peaked mountains, wildflowers, roaming cows and hillside chalets.

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The fresh air always wears her out.

The fresh air always wears her out.

Shannon’s visit was wonderful and way too short. Luckily I’ll see her in the summer when Annie and I head back to Manitoba to enjoy a few weeks at the lake.

And we have more Canadian visitors coming in August to keep me sane; I will commit to being a bit more timely about that post.