30 January 2009

Trip to Croatia

So we were told that we needed to go to Croatia by the MA35 people to renew our passport stamps. We were thinking "Croatia, isn't that like the war zone place?". But that was soooo 10 years ago apparently.

Here we are at the boarder documenting our strange trip that required us to leave Austria, travel through Slovenia (Slovenia wasn't good enough because it was an EU country) and into a non-EU Croatia. Just to get some stamps for our passports.

The "Old City" of Zagreb was quite nice. Even though it was dreary things had a very old Europe feel.

Whenever you're looking for something interesting and free to do, go to a Church and take in the history/art.

Oliver wasn't too thrilled, but he didn't complain too much unless you stood still for too long.

Outside the church there were 4 gold angel statues surrounding a large spire in the middle of a fountain. But more importantly, there were birds that some old lady was feeding. Elora took care of the bird problem pretty quickly.

We found this place across the street from the Church. It looked like a little hole in the wall Italian restaurant. (when in doubt what to eat, choose Italian if the country you're in is close to Italy - plus if you don't speak the language in that country, Italian food is mostly called the same thing in all European languages - spaghetti is still spaghetti, bolegnese is still belegnese...) The food was very good. They didn't have kids meals, and were morally oppposed to allowing us to order Penne with Bolegnese sauce for Elora (even though they had Spaghetti w/ Bolegnese), so she insisted she wanted Penne with Pesto. She was like most people, where she liked it until the Pesto just became too much... you can only eat so much Pesto/Pasta without something else thrown in.

Outside of the Old City, on the other hand things were a little more run down. We stayed in a nice western hotel closer to the highway and the airport but when driving from the old city to the "new city" it was pretty depressing. We actually saw a few gutted, empty structures that were nothing more than skeletons. Victims of fire or war? It made you feel a little sad. But some of this could have been the fact that the weather was so dreary outside and all the plants were dormant.

29 January 2009

Filzmoos - castles

We spent Friday driving around looking at castles. There are a ton of them around Salzburg. The first one we went to was Hohenwerfen, which was actually closed on the inside, so we just took some pics of the castle from various random roads Chris chose to drive on to find a good view... and then we hiked up to the bottom part of the castle. We did go inside the main gate, which was left open by the caretaker had left open, but since we weren't sure we were really allowed to be there, we just snapped a couple pics and left.

The best part is that the caretaker actually lives there and gets to drive up the hill, park his car inside the castle, and lives in one of the old fortress sections of the castle with his dog. How would that be? "Oh, I would love to have you over for dinner, just drive up to my castle around six."

While driving we went through this crazy huge long tunnel. See the mountain above the entrance? We drove underneath it. Yes, the whole way underneath a mountain. It took forever, but at least we could be amused by Elora quoting Green Eggs and Ham. "Would you could you in the dark? Would you could you on a train? Not in the dark, not on a train, not in a tunnel..."

Here is how the kids amuse themselves while driving. I love watching Elora read books. She read Dumbo for probably a good 45 minutes, only stopping occasionally to ask me a question about one of the pictures in the book.

Now, Oliver is not so used to riding in cars since he doesn't do it often, so we just have to shove him food, toys, ANYTHING to keep that kid happy while in the car. The pringles can worked for about ten minutes, not sure if he was licking out the salt, or just enjoying that potatoey smell.

We went on to the Mauterndorf, which was a really old castle dating back to the 1200s.

Here we are outside the castle. It was a wee bit cold, as you can probably guess, and they don't really heat the inside of these castles for visitors...

Okay, check out the graffiti from 1765 and 1847, written in the nice gothic writing. It is behind glass now, so who knows if that is when it was really written?

I love the little door inside the big huge door. Do you think they ever bothered with the little door though? Usually I would think people would have horses and the main road actually ran through the main gate of the castle, so I would assume the big door was usually open...

This was a neat castle to visit, because it was a more interactive tour where you could walk around and try on costumes, and see weapons and armor displayed. We would have liked it if the tour included more history about the castle though, it seems like there must have been some interesting stories... the one I did learn on the tour is that the castle was never besieged, but was attacked, and the constable's daughter Anna successfully led the defense in her father's absence.

Chris enjoyed playing dress up. Elora wanted to try on the chain mail, but alas, it was too heavy! So she let me and Chris enjoy the costume room.

I think the people must have been shorter when this castle was built. The beds were all really short, but I learned from the tour that this was not because the people were that small, it was because they slept sitting up, propped by lots of pillows. Interesting.

Elora said, "what is in there mama?" That kid is really interested in cannons for some reason. This was an early cannon, and didn't look like any cannon I have ever seen. Did they use rocks, or just really small cannonballs? There was also a crossbow that had to be cocked using a handcrank. It was nice being in a castle where we could wander around, and Elora could touch things. We took her to the art museum the other day, and was not happy when we told her to stop touching the statues...

Also, the chapel has the original fresco on the walls which was painted in 1450. Very neat. You weren't allowed to walk inside the chapel, so I captured it as best I could through the glass... There were more castles in the area, but the kids were getting tired and a little cold, so we headed back to the hotel for one more night of swimming... to which Elora replied, "I am so excited! I love swimming!"

Filzmoos Ski Trip - continued!

So Chris likes to take pictures while skiing, one was put up in the previous post. He was curious what he looks like while doing this, so I took a pic for him... I wonder why he wiped out on day one? Could it be he was so busy taking pics he forgot to watch the ski run?

Day 2 of skiing lessons did not go very well... There was a lot of falling and frustration as I tried to figure out how to parallel ski. I ended the lessons feeling pretty demoralized. Luckily Chris took me back up to the top of the slopes, and we skiied down together. I did well and enjoyed the relaxing experience of skiing without anyone watching my progress, which allowed me to end the day feeling much better. Elora woke up apprehensive about skiing again, so when she said she didn't want to try it, we decided to leave off ski school until next year... although this afternoon she said she wanted to ski and was sad when we told her that we already gave her skis back to the store. Make up your mind already!

Day 3 of ski classes went really well. I started out a little nervous as usual, but as the lesson progressed, and I became comfortable with the teacher and other people, it started to be a lot of fun. We actually learned how to parallel ski, and I thought it went pretty well. Now I ski in the fantastic style of snow plowing, with the occasional parallel skiing thrown in... but at least I feel confident about getting down the mountain!

Here is me with my ski class - our teacher was from Germany (wearing the red), and she was a really good teacher. Didn't speak great English, but she was super good at showing us what to do. The three others in my class were Garrett, Paul, and Susie from Ireland and said they come to Filzmoos every year. They were all super supportive and encouraging, it made the class a lot of fun.

After my class was over, Chris took me up the HUGE chair lift to the top of a HUGE mountain. It is neat because you get to ski a whole bunch of different runs to get to the bottom, and can choose harder or easier runs. It was very beautiful, and the sun even came out so that we could really enjoy the views. It was a great way to end our ski week.

Here is a picture of me actually skiing, and I don't look that bad... usually in the pictures I am holding my ski poles all funny (I don't actually ever use them... so I don't pay much attention to my arms...)

Here is Chris showing off and trying to spray me with tons of snow. Nice.

After skiing we took the kids out to play in the snow. Oliver thought eating the snow was interesting, but mostly just sat there looking around.

Elora LOVES playing in the snow, especially when she gets to throw snowballs at people. Here she is running to greet me just before pounding me in the head with a snowball. Such a sweetheart.

And of course, the bigger the snowball the better. She had a little trouble lifting this one, but eventually she picked it up, ate half of it, and threw the rest at me. Not sure why she thought throwing them at mom was WAY funnier than throwing them at dad...

After the snow we went to a restaurant and had some hot chocolate, and I love their funky spoons!

26 January 2009

Observations by Elora... part 2

Chris made crepes for lunch today, which Elora calls roll pancakes. She had a couple left on her plate, and Chris sprinkled some powdered sugar on them for her. She said, "Thank you!" and I said, "You're welcome." She looked up at me and said, "No, you didn't make roll pancakes." (as if to imply, "I was saying thank you to dad, not you"). So Chris said "You're welcome" and Elora went back to eating.

Today we finally took down the Christmas tree, and Elora came over to me and said, "What are you doing?" So I told her I was putting the Christmas tree away. She said, "But I don't want the tree to go away!" As I left the room to find a box for the ornaments, I heard Elora say to the tree, "What's the matter tree?" and then she proceeded to tell me that the tree was sad and wanted it's ornaments back on. I almost left the tree up after that... but alas, a month after Christmas is long enough.

24 January 2009

Filzmoos Ski Trip - Day 1

We went on a fun drive through the mountains in our rental car, and passed a lot of fun castles and ruins. We thought how nice it would be if we had a car so we could come back and explore all these fun places. The mountain roads were very beautiful and took us through little ski towns and snow covered forests. Oliver is obviously not as used to riding in the car as Elora, he started crying after he woke up from his nap, and fussed most of the way there...

The little town of Filzmoos is a cute ski town where are the apartments are right at the base of the lifts. All the hotels are just family owned large houses with multiple rooms. You can walk out your door and there is the ski lift. We got our skis, our room, and our ski class passes and everytime we tried to pay, no one would take our money... they just said, "No! Pay at the end. It is okay." Elora was very excited to try on her ski boots and see her skis. We took her over to the ski school, and she was very excited because there is a slide and lots of fun obstacles on a flat course that are shaped like mickey, frosty the snowman, etc. She has been talking about nothing but ski school since we got here. Every time she sees people skiing she says, "They are skiing! I am going to ski school!"

Here is a picture of the town that Chris took while skiing.

We are staying in one of the apartment hotels with a nice living room and separate bedroom. For breakfast Chris heated up some milk in the teapot, and we all enjoyed hot cocoa and sweetbread with nutella. Elora loves her "Hot chocolate steamed milk" and her "Chocolate treat bread".

The first day of classes I did a pretty good job. We weren't allowed to use poles, so I had to learn pretty quick how to keep my balance. The other people in my class are all really nice, and the instructor was very helpful. The funny thing is, when we were finally allowed to use poles, I actually thought it was harder to keep my balance... too many things to think about at the same time!

Elora was so excited in the morning, but once she got the snow boots and skis on she wasn't so sure she wanted to try skiing. She went to ski school, but after falling backwards a couple times decided she was all done. She went and played in the kindergarten at the hotel. In the afternoon Chris and I took her back out. She met her ski teacher at the hotel and talked to her, and told her she wanted to try skiing again. So we put the skis back on, and she actually did a really good job, and even skiied a little bit all by herself!

Here is Elora once she realized Chris wasn't holding on to her anymore...

After a hard day of skiing, we went to dinner at a little restuarant that was across the street from our hotel. I shared my spaghetti bolognase with Oliver. Every time I brought the fork close to him, he would giggle, smile, and give me the sweetest loving look I have ever seen. The way to my boy's heart is obviously with food...

There is a nice indoor pool here that we went to, and Elora and Oliver really enjoyed it. Elora especially loved the kid pool where she could stand up and play and go down the slide. She even made some little friends while swimming. She also tried to jump in the big pool a couple times, and told Chris to let go of her in the pool because "I can swim all by myself!" Oh really... luckily Chris didn't let her try it. It was really beautiful swimming and being able to look out all the windows at the snow coming down outside.

We took a ton of pictures of skiing and all the sightseeing we did. Click here to see more of our pics!

10 January 2009

Observations by Elora...

On the way home today, a lady got on the bus wearing a big fluffy orange fur coat, along with an awesome fur hat. Elora kept staring at her and finally said (in a very serious, contemplative voice), "That lady looks like a monkey." To which I replied, "Yes, I guess she does." Elora continued to stare, and about halfway home asked, "Does the monkey lady have a tail?" At which point I could only smile and giggle and hope the little old lady didn't hear...

Things I've learned living abroad...

Random thoughts by Karen, with a few by Chris (first commenter to guess who wrote each wins some Viennese chocolates!)

Europeans are very snobbish toward McDonalds, as they should be, with the exception of the fact that they LOVE McDonalds and eat there all the time. When confronted with this they reply, "Austrian McDonalds is better than American McDonalds because they use Austrian ingredients." It's actually a big marketing campaign of McD here to get Austrians to like eating their junk by buying and proudly telling everyone in Austria that McD uses Austrian ingredients. So all the Europeans insist that McD in America "tastes terrible" while McD in Austria tastes better. While normal Americans find that it all tastes equally yucky, but sickly satisfying.

Yogurt here is not a diet food, as it is all made with full fat jogurt and tastes fantastic.

Conversely, don't ever trust an Iranian that tells you to get the Jogurt drink with your lamb kebab. Because sad experience tells Chris that jogurt drink has nothing but the following in the ingredient list: full fat plain jogurt, salt, water (in that order). Uck.

Kebabs are tasty. But Viennese people think they are unsanitary because the meat sits there for several days or maybe a week. But they cover it up with lots of spices. So its all good.

Iranian pistachios are not green like the ones from California. They are red and have a lot more salt.

Austrians never quickly unplug a USB stick or cable, they always meticulously right click and select "Safely remove hardware." As they should, but who actually does that?!?

Before we came an Austrian told me that "Austrian bureaucrats get turned on by official stamps and seals." I have learned that he is right.

Never eat mango in Europe because it comes from Turkey and Turkey has a lot of arsenic in the soil and supposedly their mangos are lethal in high concentrations.

Vienna is a smaller city than I thought... when we rented a car, it turns out you can get across the city in about a half hour, and on public transportation it takes an hour.

The funny thing about public transportation, is it will always take you the same amount of time to get places no matter how much traffic there is... it makes me feel less stressed about traveling, because I always know what time I will get there.

When you fill your grocery cart to the top with food at the store, the cashier looks at you like you are INSANE!

When you have kids and no car, you start to cart your life around with you in the stroller...

When you are only allowed to use the washing machine once a week, you always make sure you get your laundry done on laundry day.

When the Dollar is down against the Euro, you wisely save and spend every Euro cent. And even stop to pick them up off the ground.

Coincidentally, Austrians love complaining about and discussing all forms of currency valuation and their various trade rates as a part of every day conversation like Americans talk about the weather.

Yes, you do get used to walking up two flights of stairs carrying kids every time you get home.

Putting yogurt or baby food in your purse is never a good idea.

Happy New Year's!

On New Year's Eve we went to a dinner party with a Frenchman, aRussian, a Brazilian, and an Italian. A couple of Mormons walked inand said, "If you can think of a good joke, let me know." No really,we went to a dinner party with some friends and thier kids. Elora wasmesmorized by the plasma screen displaying baby tv.

When we went home we brought out the sparklers we found in the cellarand decided to try them out. Elora was super excited by the sparklyfire, but didn't want to hold them. I didn't want to hold them either,because they wouldn't light until burned halfway down... Elora liked to shout Happy New Year!

At midnight we looked out our windows and could see fireworks shooting
off all over the city. It was really beautiful. You can buy huge
fireworks to shoot off here, and everyone seemed to be enjoying it! I
can't believe the kids slept through the hour-plus long booming.

09 January 2009

Oliver Explores the Hotel Room

This will conclude our Garmisch posting. I feel like Oliver gets alittle ignored in the posting sometimes, since he doesn't walk aroundyet... but he is a really sweet baby who loves to play and is usuallya happy little guy. On vacation he had a great time exploring thehotel and playing with things he shouldn't, so here are a few of my favorites.

Power cords! Ollies favorite toys. He likes to pull out Elora's nightlight at home; at the hotel he stole Chris mouse and pulled any cord he could find.

Enjoying his Christmas presents.

Oliver has now inherited one of Elora's Teddies. She has three, so she kept the two big ones, and Ollie gets to have "Baby Teddy". Elora likes to borrow it back most of the time though...

Ollie was so excited that there were stairs in our hotel room. He kept trying to climb them even though he usually falls by the time he gets to step number two. I am so glad we don't have stairs in our apartment!

We got Elora this little cat puppet at the Christmas market in Munich. Ollie loved it, but has to play with it only when Elora is sleeping... And now a little video of Ollie and the cat.

07 January 2009

Freezing Cold Carriage Ride

We went on a horse and carraige ride with Chris' dad one night. Elora
was still sick and had to stay home with Nana and watch Cinderella.
The carriage ride was an educational experience - we learned a lot
about the history of Garmisch and got to see some pretty sights around
the city. It was a bit chilly out however, and the last five minutes
Oliver figured out that he was too cold and cried the rest of the way.
Much to everyone else's joy in the carraige. Actually, he may have
been crying because he lost his sock, as we found out later. He didn't
have shoes because Elora kept "putting them away" while we were on
vacation. Luckily he was toasty warm in his authentic Zebra skin fur

Garmisch Little Fishies

We took the kidlets down to the pool, which is super nice and wasn't crowded - perfect for our two little fish.

Elora loved this pool because the shallow part was only two feet so she could walk around and say she was "swimming". Elora is getting better in the water, she even went under the water a couple times voluntarily. She also blows bubbles in the water and holds onto the side and kicks her feet.

Ollie liked splashing and swimming with his Daddy.