Since They Weren’t Tired Enough from the Jetlag

Our friends from Canada, Chris and Arleen and their two girls Alexa and Brittney, came to visit us on Wednesday (a nice Canada Day event). This is the first visit to mainland Europe for everyone but Arleen, so it was pretty exciting.

After a heart-stopping run back to the train for a forgotten bag, (Chris ran ahead of me and I had a minute where I thought the train had taken off again with him on it. That would have been interesting), we took the weary travellers to the hotel.

After a quick freshening up, we went for our first look at the Altstadt (old city center) and had a drink at the top of the city hall. They held up well into early evening, but then after a simple dinner everyone crashed.


Thursday we decided to experience that most traditional of Austrian traditions, a hike up the Alps. I was going to put Annie in daycare, as her legs are still a bit short to do any serious hiking, but she seemed so upset to leave her “friends” that I couldn’t bring myself to do it. So we compromised and choose to go to Mutters, where Annie and I would take the gondola up and wait at the playground for the rest of the crew to have lunch. The best laid plans….

We started on the streetcar, as with Annie we were too many for the car. Alexa and Brit entertained Annie, mostly by “washing” their hair. (I think I used the quotation marks correctly there.)



And then we learned that the gondola was closed until the start of the summer season, which is next week. Darn. I thought it best to take Annie home, but Chris offered to carry her up the hill. Even though this is one fit family — 15-year-old Alexa just finished her first junior marathon, Brit plays basketball and Chris and Arleen both run — it is still a big undertaking to haul a 15 kg squirmy girl up a mountain. But we decided to try. (Rebecca didn’t join us, as she was finishing her art project.)

Annie had a blast after being bribed onto Chris’ shoulders with the promise of a mountain-top playground. And then she fell asleep in Chris’ arms. This is her cranky face as she is trying to sleep a little bit longer.


The steep hike was a little longer than expected — a full hour and a half instead of an hour — so we were all ready for lunch at the top. Radlers (lemonade and beer) and Almdudler (gingerale-type drink) quenched our thirst, hot cheese dumplings and wurst filled us up, and then we hung out with the cows and goats.



Annie took this shot.
Annie took this shot.

Markus took us the long way down, trading off with Chris carrying Annie (what heroes!) so our adventure took around 6 hours. The views were gorgeous, as always, and it was a good introduction to this part of the world. But we did have to promise the girls that they wouldn’t have to do it again. Fair enough.

Kaiserfest in Kufstein

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.)



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.



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.

One for the 800-year-old Road

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.

A Long Ovedue Post

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.


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.)



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.)



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.


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.


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.

Hannibal Over the Alps: Who Said History Was Boring?

Markus was catching up on my blog and commented that I hadn’t posted about the Hannibal show yet. Not sure how I let that one pass by, as it was one of the most impressive experiences of the year. Since we spent the whole day today baking ourselves in the city’s ginormous outdoor swimming complex, it seems a bit strange to be talking about partying in the snow. But I guess we Canadians are used to it, given that the hockey playoffs spill into June.

As part of my birthday present (because Paris wasn’t enough, lucky girl that I am), Markus bought tickets for the year-end show at the Sölden ski mountain. Each year a few of the main ski resort villages put on major performances to celebrate the end of the winter ski season.

For the last few years, Sölden has put on an amazing performance which focuses on the story of Hannibal, the Carthaginian military commander (about 200 BC), during the period he marched over the Alps into Italy.

There were over 5,000 people watching…and eating and drinking and buying stuff of course. (I know I’ve said it before, but except for the bank’s refusal to lend us money, I have seen very few examples of the effect of the financial crisis on this part of the world.) The event was incredibly efficiently run, starting with a couple of dozen buses providing non-stop transportation from the lower village to the mountain top. (I just closed my eyes and imagined good things as we teetered on the edge of the mountain switchbacks for the 15 minute journey.)

At the chalet we ate and drank and found our place at the base of the glacier to watch the action. Even before the main event there was a huge video screen and blaring music to accompany the dare-devil stunts of the fighter jets and B52 bombers zooming through the sky.

The event itself was a contemporary retelling of the Hannibal story, with a deep-voiced narrator and an English-speaking talk-show host moving the story along. The performance was incredible. We figure it took hundreds of thousands of Euros to put on this thing. There were dozens of performance skiers, helicopters, para-gliders, dancers and actors. 15 snowplows represented the elephants that Hannibal drove over the mountains, while a giant crane transported the overseeing goddesses and Hannibal to the scene. An ice pyramid provided a platform for the dancers as well as a real bed with some hot action.

After the stunt motorcycles and snowmobiles jumped over ice ramps, I thought we had hit the highlight of the show. That was when a real live avalanche was triggered. CA.RAY.ZY! To be followed by about a dozen parachuters carrying glowing lights jumping from planes. And of course, the whole thing ended with a spectacular fireworks display.

I decided to take my video camera, thinking that that would be a better way of capturing the performance. On review of the footage, I have discovered that, although I’m not a great photographer, my video taking skills are truly scheiße. Luckily, between the magic of YouTube and the existence of promotional videos, you get to see 3 incredible minutes of this stunning hour-and-a-half extravaganza. Enjoy.

A Stunning Spring Day in the Mountains

I’m celebrating my first day being able to type with two hands by resuming my blogging. The cast came off on Tuesday, and after yesterday’s physio session, I can turn my wrist enough to lay it on the keyboard and type. Yahoo! I’ll keep this short though, as I’m pretty sure my forearm will start to ache soon.

Mom and Drew arrived Tuesday for a visit to Innsbruck. Drew had a 4 week volunteer management stint in Serbia, so Mom joined him for the last week. They enjoyed Belgrade and then visited Budapest and Vienna on route to Innsbruck. Mom will be here for another 2 weeks (and look after Annie while we go to Paris) and Drew will be here until next Tuesday.

This last week has brought almost summer-like conditions here in this part of Europe. So strange. A week before there was snow on the ground, and then suddenly the temps are above 20 ° C. Markus wanted to get one last ski in before the season ended, so we all piled into the car and took the funicular to the top of Axamer Lizum,  a mountain about 25 minutes drive from Innsbruck door-to-lift.

Markus had some beautiful runs while Mom, Drew and I enjoyed the sun, warm weather, and spectacular view. Here are some pics and a short video of the panoramic view of the mountains, including a shot of a cross, a required feature on the top of every mountain in this very Catholic country.

Mom at the base of the mountain
Mom at the base of the mountain
The gang waaaaay up high.
The gang waaaaay up high.
Markus ready to enjoy a gorgeous Spring ski.
Markus ready to enjoy a gorgeous Spring ski.

Panorama at Axamer Lizum from Hillary Samson on Vimeo.

Fasching Fun

Today was a half day holiday for schoolchildren and most businesses, as the country celebrates Fasching or Karnival. This is the festival the day before Lent starts, an interesting crash between pagan and Christian mythologies, where people can get their drinking, eating and partying in before the 40-day deprivation begins. The other main focus of Fasching is driving away winter. Some wear scary masks or bear costumes to represent winter, while others play instruments, wear bells and noisemakers, or have mirrors on their heads to scare winter away. Kids get dressed up in costumes similar to those seen in NA for Halloween, with princesses, pirates and clowns being the obvious favourites.

We went over to Aunt Susi’s and Lili’s last night and borrowed a very cute ballerina costume. Mostly I really don’t like organizing costumes, either for myself or for others; but the upside today was that Annie was so excited to put on the costume that she was easily dressed, including letting me put up her hair. Annie has been so difficult to get dressed the last few weeks, that when Markus returned from Canada last time I told him that it was his responsibility to see to that duty in the morning for, like, the next 10 years.

Here are the sweet pictures of the little ballerina.

Pretty in Pink
Pretty in Pink
Practicing her pirouettes
Practicing her pirouettes
Starting a fun filled morning at daycare
Starting a fun filled morning at daycare

Students Rebecca’s age don’t really get dressed up anymore, but she and I went to watch the parade for an hour or so while Markus worked in the Cafe. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t very good, lots of snow, very slushy and chilly, but that didn’t seem to stop the crowds. The legal open alcohol for anyone over 16 certainly helps with the festive atmosphere, I’d say. There was a real range of traditional and modern floats and bands. There were scary masks, children riding unicycles, and beautiful costumes. I think my favourite had to be the Austrian drag queens, but I’ve always had a soft spot for that sort of thing.






I grabbed my regular camera instead of the video camera, so unfortunately the quality of the following could be better and I can’t edit it to make it shorter (only 1 minutes, but still.) But it does give you a sense of one of the main themes of the festivities, driving winter away and ushering in spring.

Fasching Umzug from Hillary Samson on Vimeo.

Mondrodeln and a Cute Homecoming

Twice since Markus has returned home, we have gone tobogganing at night. Yes, at night. The walk up was beautiful both times, but especially the second time, with everything dusky and quite with new snow. We had a tasty dinner at a little lodge at the top, where the woman serving us vaguely remembered Markus from his younger days, as they used to live in the neighbourhood and went up that hill a few times a week. Then the crazy part began.

Markus had thought there would be a full or near full moon, but both times it was too cloudy to the let the moonlight through at all. Although brother Andy informs me that if there is snow it isn’t pitch black (and that I just need more alcohol), it seemed pretty dark to me.

As you can imagine, this isn’t my favourite activity. I pretty much avoid/hate anything that has even a hint of physical danger. Those of you pooling your money to buy me that skydiving course for my upcoming 40th will just have to think of something else.

The first time was the worst, as the track was quite slippery, and there were times I just couldn’t go slow enough for my comfort. I had scouted out the drops off the side of the mountain on my way up, and although I couldn’t see them, they loomed large in my imagination. I stuck to the inside of the track, thinking that I was probably better off smacking into a tree than hurtling into the unknown.

Obviously, this really isn’t as dangerous as I am making it out to be, as the second time we were there several families with children were coming down as well. However, they all seemed to have flashlights. A good idea I’d say.

The second time there was more snow and so I could just go slow. Very slow. It really isn’t that much fun, but better than the alternative (fast and crapping my pants.) But of course Annie, Rebecca and Markus had a good time, so I have a feeling we’ll be going again.



This is a bit out of order, but I’m just figuring out my video camera. Here is Markus’ first night home after his last 2-week trip to Victoria. Both of the girls were just a wee bit excited. Cracks me up. Hopefully Markus will be staying in Europe for at least the next few months. Or else the family might be visiting me in the looney bin. (Oh, and please ignore the familial violence…all in good fun I assure you.)

Dad’s Home January 2009 from Hillary Samson on Vimeo.

My Euro Girl

This morning Annie was playing with Grandma Susan and Grandpa Ken’s Teddy Bear Picnic set that they sent for Christmas, setting the bears in their place and pouring tea. Except it wasn’t tea. She informed us  definitively that the bears were having Kaffee, said with a distinct accent. Too hilarious.

If you go down to the woods today...
If you go down to the woods today...

And those of you following Facebook already know that the other day Annie corrected my pronunciation. When she likes something she is eating she says “lecker!”, which probably translates best as tasty or yummy. I said it back to her and she got a little Samson scowl in her eyes and repeated the word in her perfect, guttural Tirolean accent, trying to teach me the correct pronunciation. Rebecca and I had tears running down our cheeks we were laughing so hard.

And of course, nothing is more Austrian than skiing. Annie had her first crack at it yesterday at Seegrube. It is a beautiful mountain less than 30 minutes by bus and gondola from the Develo door to the top of the slopes. Honestly, it was a pretty much a flop ending it tears after only a couple of minutes. However, I was very quick with the camera and so was able to make it look like she was having a great time and a successful experience. Better luck next year. Rebecca and Markus had a good couple of runs though, and I’m going to try to hit the slopes on Wednesday if the weather is good.

Way, way above beautiful Innsbruck
Way, way above beautiful Innsbruck
Setting up. How little are those skis?!
Setting up. How little are those skis?!


Ready to hit the slopes
Ready to hit the slopes
Magic carpet ride
Magic carpet ride

Annie’s Very First Ski Run from Hillary Samson on Vimeo.

Sweet, Sweet Guilty Pleasures

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

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

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

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

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

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