Things I Love About Austria

Here is a random list of things that I love about living in this part of Austria. Much of it isn’t new, but it is fun to put it all into one place.

  • The beautiful mountains. Hiking, alpine zoo, skiing, tobogganing, just watching them as they change day by day, season by season
  • The old city. The buildings are up to 800 years old and I find Innsbruck’s old town especially beautiful
  • Christkindlmarkt. I’ve written about my love of the Innsbruck Christmas markets several times on this blog. After experiencing it 5 times, it still is magic to me
  • Festivals. It seems like there is always some festival or another going on in Innsbruck or one of the near-by villages. From ringing out winter to driving the cows down from the mountain, there is always a reason for beer, pretzels and wurst
  • Hütten. Anywhere you can climb, hike or ski there is a rustic restaurant-in-the-hills waiting for you with hearty food, a warm fire and an amazing view
  • Erlebnisbad. It takes a combined effort from the city, citizens and sponsors to create these fantastic swimming complexes that are scattered throughout this part of the world. It is a fun and relaxing way to spend an hour or a whole day
  • Living so close to Italy. It is a breathtaking, incredible country that I’m glad I visited and hope that I get to explore more at some point in my life
  • Travelling. Given that we haven’t been rich either in time or money the last 3 1/2 years, we’ve managed to do alright in the travel area. This is because everything is so close and accessible by train or car. Of course I would have loved to have gone to more places, but I’m grateful for what we have been able to see and experience in our time here
  • The opportunity to learn more about people from other cultures. Of course, I could have done this in Canada, but I never really did much. My circumstances as an expat who didn’t speak German led me to meet and interact meaningfully with people from Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Afghanistan, the Congo, Serbia, Russia, Montenegro, England, Holland, Australia, France, Italy, South Africa, Slovakia, and on and on

This is just off the top of my head, and it is a long list already. Our time here has been difficult and has strayed far, far from our original plan. But I don’t regret coming here. I know I’m a different person, a better person for this experience.

Squeezing out the Last of the Summer Sunshine

On Wednesday the weather turned and it became rainy and cold here. I’m so glad that we made the most of the very warm Old Woman (Altweiber) Summer last weekend. (Would you say that is more or less politically incorrect than Indian Summer?) It started on Friday after a long, long week at work. I was very tempted to pick Annie up and then just throw her in front of the tv so both of us could flake out. Instead, I pulled up my mommy socks and called the mother of one of Annie’s friends to meet us at the wilderness playground after school. I love this playground, as it is spread out through the forest with  structures made of wood to blend in with the surroundings. There are swings and slides, miniature houses and a kid-friendly zip-line. A nature walk with balance beams and turny things and a quiz to test knowledge of the forest animals. My favourite part is the barefoot walk. Emily and Annie whipped off their shoes, socks and even pants (so they wouldn’t get wet) and went around and around the path that is laid with different textures for you to experience (wood shaving, rocks, pine cones, tree stumps and a knee-deep pool of cold water at the end.) Sara brought coffee for her and I which we enjoyed in the sunshine, so it was waaaaay better than hunkering down at home.

On Saturday we met up with Chloe, Julian and Margriet and drove up about 30 minutes to a lake. Too cold to swim, we just had an über-relaxing day. The three kids played in the playground while we had a drink at the adjacent cafe. The playground was easy for us to watch, but just far enough away that the children had to think twice about running back to us to report on every little incident. Perfect.

We went for a short hike and then found a restaurant with outdoor seating and another small playground. The time flew by and we were outside for over 6 hours.

On Sunday Markus, Annie and I drove up to one of the mountain regions, Alpbach. It is a small ski area in the winter, but in the summer it is available for hiking (of course). I was a bit surprised at the price of the gondola (11 euros per adult), but when we got up top I realized why.

A 2km children’s walk (Juppi Zauberwald) had been created with, well, just about everything you can think of for a nature-focused kid’s hike. Two well-built-out playgrounds with tree houses and teepees and a wobbly bridge as well as the regular activities.

Wooden stilts

There were goats to pet and a witch’s hut and oversized witch’s spell book to look at.

Witch's House

Each child got a card to take with them and there were 10 questions scattered throughout the hike; finding the answers completed a crossword puzzle. The weather was amazing and we had a spectacular day. We took the gondola down after the hike and had a late lunch on the patio watching Annie play with other kids on the near-by trampoline.

Markus took a short video on his iPhone of Annie on one of the balance beams. It totally cracks me up, because she isn’t having much trouble crossing, but hams it up with the over-exaggerated nervous sounds and gives us a look at the end to make sure we were appreciating her performance.

As this was what we woke up to Sunday…

…I’m sure glad we took advantage of the beautiful weather when we could.

My Hood

Good friend Stacey requested some photos of our new home. I thought that would be a great blog post idea, until I realized that this would require the house to be in a state worthy of having pictures taken that I was willing to post to the Internet. Let’s just say that this level of tidiness happens, um, not every day.

So instead Markus, Annie and I headed out for a short walk behind our house and took some photos. I just love the views from our neighbourhood, Arzl.

Much of our view from our yard is blocked by an old house, but you can see a couple of mountains if you stand in just the right place.

Select view from our yard.
The lane beside our house
At the end of the lane

A short walk up the lane begins a path that first snakes through the cow pastures and then merges with the larger mountain system of trails.

Annie and I by the cow pasture

Pretty Innsbruck tucked in the mountains
Pretty Innsbruck tucked in the mountains

This last picture turned out to be a bit boring. I was trying to capture the awesome hill that I think will be perfect for Annie to slide down on her plastic Rutschblatt. (What do you call it is English? Magic carpet?) I’m hoping the path leading through the pasture is kept up, as I can see many afternoons of Annie and I climbing up and sliding down, and climbing up and sliding down. Repeat until one of us loses the feeling in our toes or bum.

I do miss the views of the ocean, but the mountains are a close substitute in terms of beauty. For all of our personal trials, it is hard not to feel blessed to live in this part of the world. Maybe not forever, but I’m enjoying it while we are here.

All About the Bread

I’ve had a blog post request. For bread. Good friends Ryan and Renate will be making it three years in a row by celebrating New Year’s in Innsbruck with us again this December 31st. It is so special for Markus and I. (And Annie has fun with them too, of course.)

Ryan and Renata work very, very hard, living in Victoria and flying to Winnipeg to work on a contract every week. Every week! One of the upsides to this, though, is airmiles. So they travel. And this year they are off to Kenya with stops in Switzerland and then Innsbruck. (Markus and I are hoping to join them in Montreux if we can work it out with the cafe and Annie.)

When Ryan read that I was posting every day, he must have been thinking about his upcoming visit because his request was for a post about bread. Because really, the bread here is something to look forward to. It is fantastic. And it is everywhere. I’ve found good bread in Victoria and Winnipeg and London (Wildfire, Tall Grass Prairie and the Portuguese Bakery respectively), but you have to look for it and sometimes go out of your way for it. Bread here is very important and very available. There are bakeries every few blocks. (They are like 7-Elevens in Winnipeg.) Even in the airport they have mini-ovens so that the bread can come out fresh for the tired travelers. It matters here. (I’ve never heard an Austrian talk about a low-carb diet.) This isn’t true everywhere in Europe either. Italy, home of fantastic food, serves mostly white bread. Tasty, but white.

When Ryan and Renata come, they slip out to the bakery every morning and pick up a warm loaf. One of Ryan’s favourites is a sunflower bread called Sonnenkraftbrot (sun-strength bread). It has a chewy crust and a soft but dense center.


We’ve also tried, and like, potato bread, walnut bread and even the Bauernbrot (farmer’s bread) is great with cheese and cold cuts.

Although I’ve branched out more lately, the first year I was here I was addicted to Wurzelbrot (“root bread” because of the shape), which I guess technically is a white bread but tastes so lovely. And it even tastes great toasted the next day, as bakery-fresh bread here does not stay fresh very long. No preservatives.


Often times Austrians (including this little family) will have a simple dinner of good bread, cheese, and cold cuts. Delicious.

So we are looking forward to your visit Ryan and Renata. Your bread awaits.

Settled In

Ah, my new home. It is lovely. Although, as friends have suggested, I would have basically thought a roomy cardboard box that was freshly painted and wasn’t up 72 stairs an improvement.

Our home is in an area called Arzl. It takes me less than 10 minutes to drive downtown or to Annie’s Kindergarten, but it still retains some of its rural charm. (That is what happens when only 15% of the province you live in is habitable…everyone shares.) For example, one way I can describe getting to my house is “pass the overfed cows, take your first left after the sleepy goats, but if you come to the chocolate-brown sheep you’ve gone too far.” In the spring, before the herd was moved higher up the mountain, we awoke to the clang of cowbells. A decent way to wake up, let me tell you.

In the great “enough space?” debate, I’m coming down on the side of “it will definitely do.” We haven’t had guests yet, which I know will be an interesting challenge, but for our family of three we are working it out nicely. The guest bathroom doubles as a laundry room, Annie’s big closet houses our winter coats, the storage under the roof is packed with boxes, and careful purchasing of cupboards and wardrobes and vanity mirrors has provided more than enough space for our daily needs. Every once in a while I’ll buy something, like a new water pitcher, and we’ll look at it questioningly, wondering where to fit it in. But so far we’ve managed to figure it all out.

O.K…except for the office/craft room. It is pure, unadulterated chaos and I have a strong feeling that isn’t going to improve any time soon ever. But hey, what true artists was every known for their tidiness?

The best part by far is the yard. Annie has had more friends come to visit in the two months we have been here than in the 20 months we were at the hotel. The kids jump on the trampoline, mix mud pies in the plastic kitchen and then run upstairs to play in Annie’s weird playroom. (A bizarre combo of a bathroom and a small area under the slant of the eves that Annie adores. Kids just love to wedge themselves, their toys, and all stuffed animals into tight spaces I have noticed.)

We also enjoy our balcony. Markus’ dad bought us a gas grill, (that is a barbecue to you fellow Canadians) and we have been enjoying the fine weather with lots of semi-charred meat shared with friends and family. And although the views aren’t as spectacular as our last apartment, they certainly still show the Austrian Alps nicely.

Annie’s view is the most fun; when lying on her bed, we see only the very peaks of the mountains.

Another plus is that we can walk out behind our house and be right on the mountain paths. There is a hiking trail system that extends to, well, infinity and beyond. You can choose from dozens of paths lasting from thirty minutes to several hours (probably days if you are that way inclined), for a hike that takes you to towering vistas and delicious house-cooked knödel at a mountainside restaurant.

Getting around is also going well with one car. Markus often takes his bike, Annie and I have figured out the bus system, and there is a grocery store just down the street.

All-in-all, life is just fine here at the yellow house. Come on over for a visit sometime and see for yourself.

A Lovely Birthday Morning

The story and pics of Paris will be up soon, but I just wanted to do a short post on this day, my 40th birthday. (So weird, I tell you. I think of myself as much younger and am constantly forgetting I’m not a puppy anymore.)

I woke up before Annie did, a big treat, and then heard her toddle into our room. She gave me a big snuggle and then, when I told her it was my birthday, attempted to sing Happy Birthday and claimed, “but it isn’t in your closet.” O.K. then.

Markus and Annie made me crepes with strawberries and Canadian Maple syrup, which is one of my favourites. Even Rebecca woke up early to join us. Right now, after chatting with Markus and my mom, I’m sitting on our balcony reading a book. I feel content and happy and pretty lucky to be in this beautiful setting.

Tonight we will all go out for dinner and then back to the cafe for cake. A lovely way to spend my birthday.

Here is my view on this gorgeous morning (click on the picture to enlarge):

View from my balcony, April 20th, 2009
View from my balcony, April 20th, 2009
The mountains actually feel even closer in person.
The mountains actually feel even closer in person.
The hills are alive...
The hills are alive...

A Beautiful Day

I’ve always been pretty lucky with the places I have lived. Winnipeg never had my heart, but our cottage at West Hawk Lake only 1 1/2 hours outside the city sure did. It was paradise spending summers there. London, Ont was somewhat boring, but still pretty with stately houses, a beautiful university and plentiful trees. And of course, Victoria really felt like home after only a few months. I find walking or sitting by the ocean the most healing thing for my soul.

I seem to have struck gold again, as Innsbruck truly must be one of the most beautiful cities on the planet. If you like mountains that is, which I certainly do. Markus and Annie went tobogganing yesterday morning, but I passed as my back has been sore this week. Instead I went for a walk by the river, admiring the architecture of the houses on the sloped landscape and the snowy peaks towering above. The temperature was probably about 12 degrees (C) and I think the whole city was out enjoying the sunshine. This winter has been amazing, but the last couple of weeks have brought a ton of snow and quite a bit of slush, so the sun was welcome. Even though there is still snow all around, the restaurants and cafes had their outdoor patios set up and every spot seemed to be filled with locals and tourists enjoying their lunch and coffee in the warmth.

I strolled through the old town on my way home, yet again appreciating the 800 year old buildings and cobble-stoned streets. I just felt so lucky to be here. To be living here.

In the afternoon, Markus drove Rebecca and a couple of teammates to an out-of-town basketball game, and he took Annie along as she usually likes that kind of thing. So I really had a day off all to myself. It is indescribable what a difference it makes to this family’s life when Markus is here instead of in Canada. I’ve always had reverence for single parents or those with disengaged spouses, but I think I can appreciate their struggles even more now after my small taste of being alone with children.

So I spent the afternoon making a card for my good friend’s Lori and Shawna’s baby. (My crafting addiction is ever growing.) Their beautiful little girl Matheson was born on Valentine’s Day. It was a long road for this couple to get pregnant, so I’m feeling like this little baby is a real miracle in their lives. I spoke with Lori on about day 6, and she had yet to change a diaper. I’m starting to think there are going to be some incredible advantages with having two mothers to raise this baby!

Today is supposed to be even warmer. Markus is taking Rebecca and cousin Lili to spend a day on the slopes, so Annie and I are going to have a morning at the playground, share a slice of delicious pizza for lunch and then stroll along the Inn until Annie falls asleep. Another lovely day in the making.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

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

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.

House Maybe Sold…Emotions Conflicted

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.