Archive for the ‘Things I’d Never See in Canada’ Category

Scaring the Crap outta Children Across Europe

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Last post I said that there wasn’t anything wrong with Christmas time in Austria. I’m snapping that comment back like a trout on a fly-fishing line. I forgot all about the Krampus. Sheesh.

On Saturday Markus, Annie, my mom, cousin Lilli and I set out for the Krampus celebrations in Igls, about 15 minutes out side of Innsbruck. We were there a bit early so had time for a foot-long sausage and a piping glühwein. Annie and Lilli ran around in the snow and played with other kids. There was one round of Krampus’ going by, but Annie held it together pretty well.

For those who missed the post last year, a Krampus is a demon-like creature who accompanies St. Nicholas. Parents call on the Krampus to terrorize their children into behaving. As in, “If you aren’t good the Krampus will come and steal you away and eat you.” Seriously. I shouldn’t be that surprised, given that this is the land of fairy tales like Cinderella (Aschenputtel), where the ugly step-sisters cut off their toes and heels to make the glass slipper fit. The tell-tale gush of blood is what gives them away to the prince.

And don’t get any ideas that I’m exaggerating on the scariness part; Krampus is this

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And this

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And these dudes

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Once dusk hit the gathering was in full swing. Several wooden-masked creatures with giant cow bells and rope switches wandered through the packed crowd growling and pushing people and whipping them. There were literally dozens of toddlers screaming and crying and pleading to their parents to protect them. All they got was a toss of the head and a “you’d better be good then” comment.

Amidst this comes St. Nicholas, whose costume is a cross between a Bishop and Santa Claus. He comes with a host of children dressed as angels and hands out hundreds of sacks filled with chocolate, nuts and oranges.

I appreciate that the whole concept of elves accompanying Santa Claus is odd, but these German-speaking people are whacked, I tell you.

Last year during these “festivities” Annie was in a stroller and it was easy to divert her attention from the scarier beasts. This year she was sitting on top of Markus’ shoulders, with a bird’s eye view of the hell-dwelling monsters. She, of course, wanted to get a present. But, just to ensure no sadistic stone is left unturned, there are two Krampus’ on the stage amongst St. Nic and the angels. So Annie stands in line with Lilli, then starts screaming to go home as she nears the stage and sees the Krampus up close. Good. Let’s get out of here. Then she is wailing because she doesn’t have a present. So we go back and I tell her to close her eyes until we can snatch a sack and make a run for it.

As Markus was happy to point out, she didn’t seem worse for wear, stopping to build a snowman with Lilli on the way back to the car. But I have no doubt that there will be some nightmares over this in the days to come.

Next year, should we be in Europe, I’m not forgetting this craziness. No more Krampus for you, Annie-girl. You’ll just have to learn to sleep in longer without the threat of a terrifying and painful death.

Paris: Part Deux

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Wednesday and Thursday centered around what were my two main desires for our Paris trip, visiting the Musée D’Orsay and the Louvre.

Wednesday I made Markus get up early and head out so that we wouldn’t have to wait too long in line for the D’Orsay. Well, I mixed up the operating hours, so we were there an hour before the doors opened and no one was in sight. But that gave us an opportunity to finish our croissants and drink € 4 coffees in an overpriced (as they all are in the touristy centre of Paris) café.

Once inside, I was stunned by the beauty of the building. Formerly a train station built in late 1800’s, the space was remodeled in the 1980’s (thank goodness it missed the ’70’s!) Markus and I love the Impressionists (not very original, I know, but there is no accounting for taste), so we spent 3 hours getting our fill of Monet, Manet, and Degas. I have this incredible sense of well-being, calm, and inspiration when I am looking at art work that moves me. (Now I just need to figure out how to bottle that for injection during the rest of my life.) It was a perfect morning.

Here is a shot of the gorgeous interior, plus a couple of my favourite paintings (sorry about the quality…a photography class is next!).

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Berthe Morisot

Berthe Morisot

Claude Monet

Claude Monet

Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh

In the afternoon Markus took a break, as he was battling a cold, and I headed for the shops. I only bought one top, but enjoyed browsing. All I have to say is “What financial crisis?!!” Everywhere was packed with people buying clothes and gifts and toys for their children. I guess that is why I continue to have faith that our little inner city hotel could do well; it has to get really, really, really bad before people give up their vacation plans entirely.

Thursday we headed out early again for the Louvre. There was a line but it snaked in very quickly. (I was actually amazing that, although people poured steadily in all day, the museum is so massive that we would still find ourselves in rooms all alone.) We had a bumpy start since I was getting a bit obstinate about wanting to be in a certain area of the museum, and were having trouble finding it. But eventually we got there, I relaxed, and Markus forgave me.

As everyone who has ever been to the Louvre told me, the place is so incredibly huge there is no chance of seeing everything…even if you had a month. So in the end we wandered a bit, got lost a bit, and saw all kinds of works from various periods.

One of the amazing areas was the artifacts from Ancient Egypt (and a bit from ancient Iran). The tombs, jewellery and stones covered with hieroglyphs made me just want to stand and stare for hours. As for paintings, Rembrandt was a favourite, so we spent a good amount of time viewing his works. We also toured Napoleon’s apartments, which of course were ridiculously, deliciously opulent. Always fun to imagine myself living that life. Perhaps I’d just be bored. Or not.

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Overall the D’Orsay was the more complete experience for me, but I would/will go back to the Louvre without a doubt should I ever find myself back in Paris.

(I didn’t take any pictures of the artworks or artifacts, but here is the official site if you just have to see more.)

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After the Louvre we had fresh sandwiches in a gorgeous park and then in the afternoon walked down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. What a madhouse. (Again, what financial crisis??) So many beautiful people going in and out of beautiful shops. What an eyeful. Of course we just window shopped, but we did treat ourselves to a couple of € 10 small drafts (ridiculous, but must be done) and people watched. Markus noted that it was easy to discern the tourists in their comfortable shoes from the Parisians who wouldn’t be caught dead without heels. Like all big cities, it would be more fun to live in Paris if you have loads of disposable cash.

I wish I could tell you that our 4 days ended with a bang and big party, but both of us were a bit beat from all the walking and had brain overload from all the amazing sites. So we hopped on the metro, took a stroll through another part of town, ate oh-my-goodness awesome crepes at a street side cafe, and went to an English-language movie. (A real treat for me, as they don’t often play undubbed movies in Innsbruck.)

The weather had been perfect all week despite predictions of rain, so we weren’t too surprised when the skies opened up just as we hopped in the car to make our way back to Innsbruck. We picked a very tired Rebecca up at the Munich airport (she was returning from 2 weeks in Canada for spring break) and had a quiet drive home.

I truly couldn’t have designed a better way to usher in (hopefully at least) the next 40 years of my life. I am blessed.

Paris in the Springtime: Part 1

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Last week Markus and I kissed Annie and hugged my mom and Drew goodbye (with lots of instructions and several phone numbers), and headed out in the car for a relaxing (for me, the passenger), very scenic 9-hour drive to Paris. The weather was gorgeous, and the landscape of mountains, farms and rolling hills were soothing and stunning at the same time.

We pushed through with only a couple of coffee breaks until we got to France. We decided to stop for lunch in a town near the highway, as opposed to a road-side restaurant. It being Easter Monday, our first couple of attempts in little French villages were thwarted, as the towns were closed. Not just the shops and restaurants, but everything. Not a person in sight, not a dog on the streets. A bit weird, although we appreciated looking at the charming architecture.

We finally made our way to a bit bigger town, Saverne, where we had a very tasty lunch. We walked around for a bit, and then found a spot with outdoor seating and the look of authentic cuisine. After a little coaching from Markus, I ordered what is apparently a local specialty, Tarte Flambe. I was expecting a tart or quiche-like meal, but instead was served a thin flat bread with three different toppings. The gorgonzola was unbelievable, but it was incredibly rich so I’m glad that there were other tastes as well. The bottom is slightly charred, which usually I wouldn’t like, but the flavours worked well together. With a glass of white wine and the warm sun on my back, it was a delicious way to start the trip. (Only a week later, I’m starting to crave Tarte Flambe and am wondering when I might be able to find this again.)
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With surprising little trouble (given that I am useless at navigating, as my car sickness means I can’t look at a map for more than 2 seconds while the car is moving…not to mention my hopeless sense of direction,) we found our hotel.

I’ll mention here that this Parisian adventure was made possible by Markus’ and my family. (That is one for the ‘Can’t do this in Canada’ category: travel to Paris on birthday cash.) Markus’ parents joined a vacation club about 30 years back, and let us use some of their points for the 4 nights. The deal with this club is that they choose amazing locations, and the rooms are usually apartment style with small kitchen units. You still have to pay a maintenance fee and for parking, but with total of around € 320, we couldn’t have found a decent place for one night in central Paris. And both my sets of parents and Markus’ grandmother chipped in on spending money, so it was all possible. (Thanks everyone!)

We were very happy with our small suite (one bedroom and main eating/living area). And being able to pop down to the bakery and bring back Pain aux Chocolat with fresh juice and coffee in the room was a perfect way to start the day.

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And they  weren’t kidding about the location. We were able to walk everywhere: Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Champs-Elysees. We took the metro a couple of times only because we had worn out our poor feet from hours and hours of strolling through the city and museums.

We were both pretty tired after the long drive, so after a short stroll around our ‘hood, a few pics, and a quick dinner, we went back to the hotel for a relaxing and refreshing sleep.

Saint-Eustache and adjacent gardens just down the street from our hotel

Saint-Eustache and adjacent gardens just down the street from our hotel

In the couryard in front of Saint-Eustache

In the couryard in front of Saint-Eustache

The next morning our first stop at the local Patisserie was a real conundrum. We just couldn’t decide what to order, as it all looked delicious. I had a Pain aux Chocolat every day, and then one other treat to round things out. (Good thing we walked everywhere, as I’ve already gained weight sitting in bed with my broken elbow.)

Our first trek took us over the Pont-Neuf bridge to the Ile de la Cité, an island of land in the middle of the Seine. (Clearly I was quite taken with this river and the architecture surrounding it, as many of my photos are of this historic waterway.) We walked by the 18th century buildings and made our way to Notre Dame. The legendary church is massive and epic, and the details of the art work are a bit overwhelming. But I don’t know if it is just that we have been to so many churches and so many castles in the last 6 months (I know, poor us), but neither of us were moved to spend hours looking around. It is, however, still an impressive memory.

Pont-Neuf and the tip of the island on a hazy spring morning

Pont-Neuf and the tip of the island on a hazy spring morning

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Maybe some good Catholic could tell me the deal with the guy holding his head.

Maybe some good Catholic could tell me the deal with the guy holding his head.

Our plan for our first day in Paris was to visit the Musée d’Orsay. However, the Louvre was closed that day so the line up was ridiculous. As neither Markus or I do long lineups unless absolutely unavoidable, we shifted plans and headed along the river to the Eiffel Tower.

Neither of us really wanted to go up the tower, even before we saw the massive line ups, so that was an easy decision. The park around the towers was beautiful, and we found a little cafe with street side tables for lunch.

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After lunch we decided to hit the Paris Museum of Modern Art. We enjoyed looking at some of the sculptures as well as art deco furniture and glass work, and expressed our opinions about the paintings. Markus and I have similar tastes in historical paintings and sculptures, but different things move us with modern art. Interesting opinions ensue. We saw one artist that really reminded us of our friend Lucie Marlo’s work, but unfortunately his/her name escapes me.

One thing I was really struck with throughout our trip was how much green space has been retained in the heart of Paris. Large parks and gardens are impressive, but also areas with just grass and trees are plentiful. It made strolling through the city a real treat.

After a rest/nap, we found a very French bistro with a very French waiter, and quenched our cravings for Steak Frites. That was fine, but it was the appy that really got me. Raw vegetables with a goat cheese fondue that was seriously spectacular, served in a little, scalding hot, cast iron pot. After the veggies were gone I dipped bread, and when I was starting to get worrisomely full, I took my spoon and just ate the melted cheese. YeeeUuuuMmmm!

A memorable first day.

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Taken strolling along the Seine. Too bad it was too early for a beer.

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The Things You Find

Friday, March 13th, 2009

I hadn’t been down to the hotel cellar until about a month ago. I really had no need to traverse into the depths, but a few weeks ago I thought I’d go to find out how to change over the oil in case I ever need to spell off Markus for this bi-weekly task.

The basement hinted at interesting stories of the past, so thought I’d share some images this morning.

To start with, you have to make your way down these scary-ass stairs. Don’t you just love it when staircases curve so you can’t see the bottom? I can just hear the voices, like the audience watching a horror film yelling at the screen, “Don’t go down there! Don’t do it!”

How brave am I to go down there?

Feeling rather brave to explore the basement.

The basement is huge and mostly unused. If we do decide to ship furniture from Canada we certainly won’t have trouble with storage until we move into our own apartment.

Here is really the only room used for hotel needs besides the oil/hot water area:

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Even after 6 months and what is becoming countless castles and historic places, I’m still in awe of the thick walls and brick arches so common in these old buildings. I wonder when that will start seeming normal.

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Towards the back of the cellar is a room that was used as the bomb shelter during the war years. It has been mostly cleared out of the food, water, clothes and supplies that must have lines the walls 70 years ago, but the skeleton of the bunk beds remain as a reminder of this time.

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Sure wouldn't want to stay down here for long

Sure wouldn't want to stay down here for long

Markus knows the value of rooms such as this one. His grandmother who raised him was working as a waitress during the war somewhere in Austria. Often the raid sirens were ignored, as they so frequently were sounded, but this one particular morning the owner of the restaurant suggested the staff take cover in the bomb shelter. An explosive ended up destroying the restaurant, and killing some patrons, but those in the shelter were unharmed. There would be no Markus if the owner hadn’t followed his intuition that day. A bizarre thought.

But hands-down the most interesting area is the room that is used for some of the family junk. Mostly Lili’s old toys, some unused cabinets and an inexplicable male mannequin. However, check out the wall! Markus tells me that decades long past a student group used the space for their weekly meetings. What could they have discussed? Just thinking about it is so fascinating for me. They were obviously very into the gatherings if they bothered to create this painting on the wall. Maybe someday I’ll track down what this image was a representation of. Too interesting.

More than just a junk room

More than just a junk room

Sword, helmet, branch and wings. What could it all mean??

Sword, helmet, branch and wings. What could it all mean??

Detail of face and halo. An angel I hope I don't meet in heaven.

Detail of face and halo. An angel I hope I don't meet in heaven. At least he is smiling.

I’ve started a new category for this…Things I’d Never See In Canada. Fits, I think.