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A Little More Italia

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

Our last couple of days were more of the same as the first three…in other words, wonderful.

I think this holiday was so great because it was unexpected. Before Annie and I left for Canada we talked about going somewhere together as a family in September, but hasn’t defined our plans. And we didn’t book the hotel until about a week before we left, so I really hadn’t had time to form expectations or focus on an itinerary. It all just unfolded as a series of lovely events and surprises.

My favourite part of the trip was enjoying being with Annie and Markus so much. It is just so different being together as a family without having to rush around visiting relatives and friends (not that I don’t love and miss you all!) I think it was a good lesson in that we will have to balance our vacation time between connecting with all of the other people we love in the world, and connecting just with our little family. Even though we do spend a lot of time together every day, being on vacation isn’t the same as sitting around the dinner table with all of the daily life stresses hovering in the air.

Here are a few more highlights:

Flying fun in the salty sea.

Flying fun in the salty sea.


Lacona, another beach on Elba, where we spent a blissful day

Lacona, another beach on Elba, where we spent a blissful day

One of the greatest times on this trip actually was on the drive home. I am so lucky to be experiencing Europe with someone who grew up here, because Markus has all kinds of ideas of how to enhance our travels.  He suggested that we take a bit of a longer drive home so we could detour to the town of San Gimignano, Tuscany. I fell in love. Markus suggested it would be a great place to get married, and I actually contemplated that for a few hours, temporarily abandoning my commitment to an NA ceremony so my friends and family could attend. I loved it that much.

It was raining when we arrived, so we decided to have lunch first and explore later. We found a place with a covered terrace (it wasn’t cold, even in the rain) and had an amazing meal. I started with garlicky bruschetta and then had broad noodles in a light saffron cream sauce with roasted yellow peppers.  Markus started with a salad of walnut, olives and lettuce topped with chucks of flavourful Parmesan, and then had spinach ravioli stuffed with artichokes and truffles. To. Die. For. Annie had…wait for it…plain pasta sprinkled with Parmesan. Shocker.

Here is the terrace with a couple shots of Annie standing in the garden beside the seating:



*Note: I in no way influenced this pose. Pure Annie show(wo)manship.

Now am I ever, ever, ever going to have the nerve to cut that hair?

How am I ever, ever, ever going to have the nerve to cut that hair?

I’m swiping this shot of the centuries old San Gimignano town center, as mine didn’t turn out:



Detail of one of the buildings in the town center.

Narrow stone streets that are, thankfully, car-free.

Narrow stone streets that are, thankfully, car-free.

I wish I could truly capture the beauty of the Tuscan countryside, but neither my camera nor my photography skill seem to be up to it. Here are a few shots I took to at least give you an idea:




Italy, oh how I will miss thee. We will, without a doubt, be back.

Sugar and Spice…and a dash of puppy dogs tail

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

Annie is a delicious mix of personality traits. She is pink ballerina, twirly dancing, kiss and cuddle her dolls, sensitive heart one minute, and bam-bam, chaos, screaming-wildly-running the next.

When Annie emerged from her room this morning, it wasn’t hard to tell which side was on show today.


You make me smile, my love.

Wee, Wee, Wee, All the Way Home

Friday, September 4th, 2009

My brother, Andy, and I just finished a Skype chat. He lives in Korea with his beautiful wife in their home they built themselves. I haven’t seen him in too long so we try to connect whenever we can using the magic of the Internet.

So I mention that I am home safely and he asks if Austria feels like my home. I reply, well, Markus is here and I don’t need to live out of suitcases, so in that way it is home. But there is no denying I have the feeling of one foot on the dock and one foot in the boat and whoa what is going to happen next? I feel  disconnected, which, I admit, could be due mainly to the jetlag. But still.

Happily, the trip was uneventful. Although I am always a stressy traveller (and packer), the long flight doesn’t phase me in the least anymore. And the charter airline, Air Berlin, was just fine. We had a pillow and blanket and two to-be-expected gross meals, so all the basics were covered. The seats were a bit squishy, but better than Air Transat from what I remember. And all for €500 for the both of us. I brought the portable DVD player for Annie and the computer for me, so didn’t miss the in-seat entertainment too much. Markus and cousin Lili picked us up in Munich and, except for a missing stroller (that thing always goes missing…very old and well-used, so we aren’t worried if it doesn’t find its way home), everything went smoothly. Annie was over the moon to see Lili and they laughed and joked until Annie (and I) conked out in the car on the 2-hour drive back to Innsbruck.

Of course there are lots of things I’ll miss about my first and always home, Canada. Friends and family at the top of the list, of course. Speaking English a close second. (I immediately felt that anxiety of speaking German as soon as we landed in Dusseldorf. But I was able to get through the basics with Lili, who doesn’t really speak English yet, so I haven’t lost as much as I feared.) Shopping for craft supplies and English books (both adult and children). Actually, shopping in general. I’m really showing my middle-class North American colours, but I love going to huge stores that carry everything and just browsing and shopping and walking out with scrapbook paper, Kleenex, Tylenol, make-up, bread and magazines all from the same store. That just doesn’t exists here. (The above list is at least three, if not four, stores to complete.) And the ocean. Oh my beloved ocean. It has a unique place in my soul and I was so thankful that I spent time near the water both in Victoria and Vancouver.

I’m sure I’ll settle in again here pretty quickly though. The mountains are still, and always, stunning to me. The bread and cheese and pizza (oh the pizza) are calling. The bells chiming throughout the day sound of ancient times and something unchanging. And all the pretty people dressed in their beautiful clothes make me feel excited about hopefully making some money in this country so I can add to my beginnings of a Euro wardrobe.

Sometime I wonder what the hell I am doing here, but I’m sure (sure? maybe hopeful) it will all become clear in the fullness of time. And until then, the adventure continues.

Hoping to Dry Off Soon

Monday, August 17th, 2009

Well, how do I describe this month in Manitoba? Let’s see…3 1/2 weeks of rain and cold in a small cottage, two weeks of the worst cold I’ve had in a long time, and I tried to kill my father. Too negative? Let me try again.

I’ll start with the positive. Annie had an absolutely wonderful time with her family. She had hours of screaming laughter with Winnipeg relatives Uncle Bruce, Aunt Sylvia and cousins Paige and Devon, as well as Uncle Ian and Evan who flew in for a few days from Vancouver. Lorraine, my step-sister, was visiting from Ottawa as well and Annie was thrilled to play with her “friend”. As in, saying very loudly in the main room of the small cottage every morning, “Where is my friend Morraine (sic)? Sleeping? Can I play with my friend?”

Annie is an expert at sitting calmly in a canoe and watching the wonders on the shore. She loved splashing in the water at the beach (on those 6 sunny days), and made progress in her bravery at swimming off the dock into the cold, dark lake. Nana and Grandpa Drew spent hours reading, tickling and baking delicious blueberry muffins together with her. Grandpa and Grandma Samson had good visits with Annie including a big boat ride across The Lake of the Woods. Since I had such a grim time, I’ve decided to think of myself as a cardboard cut-out Mommy whose only role was to make sure her daughter enjoyed her summer and got to spend time bonding with family. Mission accomplished.

So what am I complaining about? Well, first of all, my own faulty decision making. My lowest times this year were when Markus was out of town, as I just am not a person who can happily manage a toddler by herself, even though Annie is quite an easy child. (Some genetic deficiency couple with advanced age I think.) And then I go and apparently take some crazy drug that makes me think I’ll be fine being alone with Annie for 6 weeks. Not fine. Even though Mom, Drew and Lorraine were very helpful and willing to lend a hand, it just isn’t the same as switching off with Markus.

As well, I’m just a wee bit stressed around any family member (Pavlovian response from days gone by.) And it rained. And rained. And rained. In our 29 days in Manitoba, we had 6 sort-of sunny days. The insane amount of mosquitoes who made my daughter’s fair skin welt up like she had been beaten didn’t help much either.

Oh and then I caught a monster cold that lasted 10 days and then morphed into a excruciatingly painful sinus infection which, as I write, is starting to feel better after 3 days of antibiotics. So I had to cancel many plans to see  friends, not feeling up to visiting, nor wanting to pass on my germs.

Except I didn’t make that decision when my dad asked us to come for dinner. He even suggested that Annie and I come another day, but not wanting Annie to miss out on spending time with her cousins, I thought we could make it. But then (because apparently I am an idiot) I went out on the boat with them where it, of course, started to rain. By dinner time I had a fever and thought for sure that H1N1 was upon me. (This is the trying-to-kill-my-father part.) My dad had stage-4 cancer about 5 years ago, and so has a depressed immune system. Even a mild cold for others can turn into pneumonia for him. And here I am spreading swine flu around. Not really very bright. Or kind, for that matter. I ended up getting my very sweet brother Bruce to drive me to the Kenora hospital, where they informed me that they don’t test for H1N1 anymore because the wait is too long, and that they wouldn’t do anything for me anyway so I should just go home. O.K. then. So much for detailed flu protocol. My fever broke the next morning, once I dried off and warmed up, so there was never any flu anyway.

Luckily, to date, my dad is fine. I can’t imagine how much therapy would be required to get over causing one’s father’s demise, but I’m guessing more than our health plan would cover.

On the plus side, I had one dinner with friends Lori and Shawna, and their gorgeous new baby Matheson. I saw Dawn and Tracey, two friends from grade school, with their children. I had lunch with Leslie, who I have known since Kindergarten and keep in close touch with. And another lunch with Mara-Lee, a friend from high-school, who hopefully will come to visit me in Austria this fall. I had short visits with some lake pals, Shannon and Jennifer, but most of the plans for longer get-togethers were cancelled due to illness. I did attend a beautiful 50th wedding anniversary of  Jennifer Hayden’s parents, and so got a chance to chat with lots of people for a few minutes. Yesterday my aunt let me come to her place despite the sniffles, so I saw her and my uncle and cousins briefly. Aunt Jean has some great old pictures; I am putting a longer visit with her on my life wish-list to gather pictures for a heritage scrapbook. So there, not all was lost.

I’m off to Victoria for a week on Wednesday, and then a week in Vancouver with my brother and his family. Hopefully the weather will be fine and I’ll get a lot more visiting in. Knowing that there is a chance I won’t be back to this part of the world for at least a year makes me feel more frantic to fit things in. This is absolutely one of those times when I am going to need a vacation from my vacation.

Going to Wash My Mouth Out With Soap As Soon as I’m Finished Writing

Saturday, August 1st, 2009

“Oh my!”, says my just 3-year-old daughter as we are driving in the car.

She continues, “I can say ‘oh my’. I don’t say ‘oh shit.’ Shit’ is an adult word. Only Mommy and Daddy say ‘shit.'”

And then after a few moments thought, “I can say ‘Oh my goodness’ too!”

That’s right baby girl. Your first lesson mastered in the complexities of the social levels of the English language.

Typing With One Hand

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Yesterday was a beautiful day. Sunny and warm. The first real day of Spring here in Innsbruck. Annie, Markus and I decided to head out for a bike ride along the river. Although no one over 6-years old here wears a helmet, I’m just not comfortable with that, so popped out to the sports store while Markus got Annie geared-up.

We made it through downtown and were on a paved back lane that runs beside the pedestrian trial. I was behind Markus and was keeping an eye on them so I didn’t get too close. Up ahead, past Markus’s shoulder, I too late noticed a car backing out of the driveway. There was a high fence around the sides of the driveway, so the driver had no chance to see us. Markus manged to stop with control (thank goodness), but I squeezed my brakes hard and went head first over my handle bars. My face got the worst of it…or so I thought. The driver of the car checked that we weren’t dead, made sure we had the address, and then took off. I guess that “don’t leave the scene of an accident” rule isn’t so important here.??

Anyway, a lovely woman walking by called an ambulance for us. Poor Annie was a bit confused. She kept saying, “You got jam on your Mund (mouth in German.) You have to wash it off.” She rescued my water bottle from the road, sweet girl, and kept close to Dad.

Two very young looking attendants came (god, I’m getting old), luckily who both spoke English, as I wasn’t thinking clearly enough to speak German. Long story shortish, after 2 tries at an x-ray, a CT scan, and more than  few tears (I used to have such a high pain tolerance but now am a total wimp), I went home with a fat lip, nasty shiner under my eye, banged up knee, and a very long cast over my broken elbow. Luckily, it looks like only a hairline fracture, so the cast should be off in 10 days.

When I came home Annie kept telling me the story: you fell off your bike; you went in a funny chair; you rode in the amblience; you hurt this knee (correctly pointing to her left knee), not this knee; you got jam on your Mund…She cracks me up. She also went through her routine on what she knows about the doctor: first you take off all your clothes… Then she gives me a little rub on my back and a kiss to make it better.

Rebecca looked after Annie while Markus stayed with me at the hospital. Once I was home she popped in every little while to bring me water or ask if I needed anything. And Markus, of course, is taking very good care of me. What a great family I have.

This morning my knee is less stiff and the pain killers are starting to work for my arm. All in all, as people keep reminding me, not too bad and of course could have been worse, like if I hadn’t been wearing a helmet! But I did have to get Markus to take one photo for posterity. Clearly looking for a bit of sympathy with those puppy dog eyes.


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!

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.


Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Today I launched a new page which I have been thinking about for a while. It is called Why? and is my take on some of the differences between Canada and Austria. I’m just getting started, so there should be more content there once I get to know my new home a bit more.

So my post today is to just direct you to that new page. Hope you enjoy.

(This is just for you, Sue) Do you have any funny stories about differences you have noted when travelling abroad?