Monday, 27 February 2012

Tastes and Smells of Vienna

So if you've been hanging around here for any length of time you will know that I am a devoted lover of food. One of my absolute favourite things about Europe is that where food is concerned, it's a no-strings-attached relationship. Are people here worried about their waistlines? Of course. This doesn't mean they treat food like it is some terrifying enemy that will make you fat. Because back home? I assure you the message that bombards you is food is only something to be sparingly enjoyed as a means to keep you alive, and if you can get all the nutrients you can out of supplements and smoothies without ever having to eat anything, EVEN BETTER.

Of course I exaggerate the last part, but the North American waistline obsession and corresponding distrust/guilt of enjoying whole foods is very real.

Dan and I found Vienna to be a wonderful city to expand your palete, and the favourite meal I had was a plate of buttery perch served alongside parsley potatoes with a wonderful green salad tossed in vinaigrette. Dan was all about the veal schnitzel and that was his preferred meal while we were there.

But our absolute favourite Viennese tastebud teaser?

The coffee and desserts.

I can't even tell you how amazing the coffee was. And Internet, I am a person who hated coffee two years ago, but after getting here and finding myself sick and tired of refusing the after-dinner coffee only to have my hosts be sent into a whirlwind of confusion and panic to offer me something else, I just started saying yes. Then I started liking it. Now Dan and I go for coffee every Saturday morning. And in Vienna, we made it a point to duck into coffee houses periodically throughout our days to warm up with a coffee and something sweet.

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We always got one dessert and shared it, but this was always a mistake because we each always attacked the dessert while giving the other person  the cut-eye  if we thought they were eating more than their share.
Quiet table fights of, "That was my bite!" happened a lot.

(Also, it might just have been me doing that.)

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The only thing we weren't prepared for is that it appears that Vienna still allows smoking indoors. There was only one restaurant we ate at that was smoke-free, and it was right in the tourist heart of Vienna. Maybe that had something to do with it? Catering to tourists? Who knows. But everywhere else allowed smoking, and it was really hard to get used to so much cigarette smoke in a confined area. I'm not one of those people who can't even stand people who smoke outside because seriously Major Control Freak, just move upwind. But being inside and dealing with smoke? Gross!

On our last night in Vienna we went to see a play, and after it got out we were both hungry but neither of us felt like sitting inside another smoky restaurant no matter how delicious the meal was going to be. So we decided to have one more culinary treat that we haven't had since moving to Switzerland: late night street vendor food. Because seriously, it was 11:00 p.m. and food stands and restaurants alike were open! People were serving food! Lots of different foods! It was glorious and very surreal, because did I mention it was 11:00 p.m. AND PLACES WERE OPEN.

We each grabbed our street vendor snack of choice (mine was a grilled eggplant sesame-pita stuffed with slabs of feta--yes, I said SLABS, oh joy, I wept--veggies, some hot peppers, and smothered in a lemon yogurt dressing; Dan's was a schnitzel burger) and raced back through the cold to our hotel room where we changed into our p.j.'s, noshed on some freaking glorious food, and watched classic WWF wrestling.

Now that's living.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Let's Buy A Palace!

I don't know about you guys, but I do enjoy a good palace. Qualities that make a palace very palacerific for me include rooms designated just for drawing, rooms just for playing cards, rooms for fancy dining and rooms for semi-fancy dining. Let's also not forget huge staircases for making grand entrances, a room for dancing, a room for meeting cabinet ministers, and a room where you brush your hair.

Schoenbrunn has all of these!

So as I mentioned, touring the palace of Schoenbrunn was the first thing on our agenda last Monday; Dan is a sucker for historical tours and I'm a sucker for imagining that I live in such grand surroundings. I can't show you any pictures inside the castle as you weren't allowed to take pictures, but this was a good thing as sometimes I need to remember to stop looking through the view finder and actually take-in my surroundings.

We had an audioguide on our tour and it was probably one of the best ones I've listened to as it really helped iron out the Habsburg family tree which I found very confusing and alarmingly circular. Another odd thing about the family is that all of the multi-generational portraits of the Habsburg children and young adults show THE EXACT same face regardless of gender or age. All the kids have soft oval faces, big doe eyes, small rosebud mouths, and grey hair.

Inbreeding man, it totally messes with your hair colour.

We also learned of Austria's beloved Sissi, Empress Elisabeth, who was adored and celebrated for her beauty; however, when you really pay attention to the audioguide it's easy to deduce she was an anorexic, possibly bulimic, woman obsessed with remaining beautiful, young, and petite. It specifically mentions that she rarely ate dinner with her family and would become anxious if pressed to do so because she was trying to maintain her weight of 110 pounds, even after four kids. Yikes.

Beauty obsession is far from being a modern construct, that's for sure.

After we'd taken our tour we wandered around outside wherein I proceeded to go shutter crazy and take a zillion pictures of Schoenbrunn's stunning butter yellow architecture.

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Schoenbrunn!

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I think this is where the military people would hang out and clean their guns.

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Or maybe it was here.

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"Go inside and put on some clothes! It's freezing out here!"

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Pretty spot.

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There were two golden eagles flanking either side of the palace's entrance.
They are quite grand.
I wonder if I could smelt it down and make some teeth?

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Yes please!

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I was all over the lines of this building.
I really liked the scale of the place.
Well done, 17th century architects.

Wandering around the back of the palace there is a whole bunch of avenues through park space, there's a zoo (which we didn't go to), and there's this other building far off in the distance presiding over everything and looking stately.

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Hello, I'm glorious.

Dan was instantly smitten with this structure so we walked up to take a closer peek at what it might be. Of course, it would be too easy to read the brochure that tells us exactly what was this building's purpose (now it's a souvenir and coffee house), but Dan decided it was a games room.

"But Schoenbrunn already had a room just for billiards and another one for cards."

"Okay, you're right. I guess I just want this to be my games room."

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Dan's new man cave.
He concedes the floor-to-ceiling windows might make his cave a tad bright, but he's willing to compromise.

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"Yes, this will be the perfect man cave. I can have a bar in there, a big screen t.v., a pool table, some poker tables. Yeah, it would be awesome."

"Alright, let's go to the Austrian government and make an offer. Do you think they'd laugh in our faces if I present them with a few thousand? I mean, the place is old. There's probably structural problems, and I bet if I went far enough back in time someone was murdered here, and murder always depreciates property value."

Then Dan planned out the segway paths he'd have leading from his palace (apparently we're now also buying Schoenbrunn) to his game room.

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Entry to the game room.

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A very wee Dan, showing me the splendour of our new fixer-uper.

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Oh who am I kidding?
It doesn't need fixing up!

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Here I am.

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I think he's going to need start lifting weights if he's going to be able to heft up his new empire.

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I just hope the birds come with the place.

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Big plans for this...

As we were leaving Dan looked at the frozen pond in the above picture.

"You know, my segway paths are going to be awesome in the summer but I need something in the winter. I'm going to turn that pond into an NHL rink and then get them to come over here for the Stanley Cup finals; Marc, your Dad and I will all have front row seats."

"Yeah, okay. Sounds good. But just so we're clear, I'm never cleaning your game room."

"That's fine. No girls allowed."

Then I tried to hit him, but he dodged my mittened fist.

The End.

(for now)

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Let There Be Light (And Internet)!

After we'd checked our luggage, it was discovered that for some reason we were not booked on our return flight on Wednesday even though Dan had paid for it. Not a big deal and we had some time to spare before we had to clear security, so we decided to try and get in touch with the online agent Dan had booked the trip through. Well, Internet I'm here to tell you that we're living proof it is absolutely bat-shit crazy to not have internet capable devices--beyond computers--in this day and age.

You see the only internet capable device I own is my laptop, and I will not pack that with me when I go on holiday because frankly it's unweildly and when I'm on vacation I don't give a crap what's going on in the world. I'm off the clock. I never feel the need to check my email, check my favourite websites, or fall through random internet worm holes that suck away three hours of my life. For me personally, I am not truly on vacation if I'm still tied to my at-home vices.

Now, that said, we are living in a world where business is increasingly online and if you've ever tried calling a company's 24hr hotline at 7:30 p.m. on a Sunday night to figure out what the eff is happening with your return booking, you too will realize that the telephones in airports? They're just for show. The telephone numbers provided by online companies? They're just fake numbers jumbled together. Nothing works and no one wants to talk to you. At all.

After we'd cleared security we had about a half hour before our flight was going to board and I spotted an internet station set up at our gate. So we plugged millions of dollars in loose change into a stone age clunker computer, swore loudly when it crashed, put another million dollars of loose change in when it rebooted, and then went online to figure out the deal. After doing an online chat with a slow typing agent--yes, really; remember, no one wants to ever speak to you--it was discovered there was just a little glitch and everything was fine. Of course we thought it was, but it was nice to know that all the same and it would have been even better if we'd been able to connect online right away and save those two million dollars in loose change that the old monster computer devoured like potato chips.

Our flight was awesome, it was only an hour long, and we got a free hot sandwich! And no, we weren't in any sort of business class/first class situation. We were with the rest of the cattle in the back, trying to avoid the wet and slimy cough of the germy man sitting in front of us. I mean, let me repeat it again: we got a free hot sandwich! To put it in perspective, the only free food I get on a six hour flight from Vancouver to Toronto is this dippy little foil package containing six sesame crackers that are roughly the size of a dime. So as you can imagine when that piping hot sandwich was placed in my hands I almost wondered if we were flying into a magic fairyland that I wouldn't want to return from. I mean, what other explanation is there for getting one whole sandwich on a late night flight, with the smiling stewardess telling us we can have another one if we want.

Oh Austria! You must be a magical oasis!

Needless to say I was feeling good when we arrived, and bolted from the airport excited to discover what oasis awaited me at that near-midnight hour. Then I ran back inside the airport because holy mother of winter, it was cold.

Like, my teeth rattled after brief exposure.

But I suppose that's why I'd been given that hot sustaining sandwich, so we bravely marched out into the cold, caught our train, and headed to our hotel. Our hotel was in the circle of old Vienna and occupied the third and fourth floors of an equally old building; the night porter buzzed us in and then we entered the world's darkest, coldest, building. I'm assuming we entered some sort of vacuum that sucks up light because we found ourselves in the building's lobby and were able to see absolutely nothing except for a glowing red light on one far wall. After feeling all along the walls hoping for light switches (nope), we tripped over the stairs and then gave up looking for an elevator and just started tripping up three flights of spiral steps, using our hands and careful footing to guide us so that we wouldn't bite it on the marble steps, fall over our suitcases and break all our teeth. I am not exaggerating: there was no light. I repeat NO LIGHT. When we reached our floor there was a sliver of light showing as the night porter cracked her door just a peek in order to hand us our room key, give us hasty instructions about entering the main lobby, before she slammed her huge oak door in our faces and left us shivering in the dark stone hallway trying to feel around for the main door that would take us into the lobby.

But when we entered the lobby? Oh, it was heaven. Beautiful Persian carpets on the floors, cozy wooden walls, and a warm amber glow from the old fashioned chandeliers guided us to our room. Our room was equally as cozy and Dan and I decided it reminded us of artist's quarters, and since we were in Vienna some composer probably wrote his opus in that room, once upon a time.

We crashed and slept soundly, waking up early the next morning to sunshine, a complimentary breakfast, and an exciting trip outside the city to tour the Habsburg's summer residence: Schoenbrunn.

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Sneak peek!

Oh, it was bright.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Viennese Waltz

On Sunday morning Dan and I woke up and I made our usual pancake breakfast and then after breakfast Dan cleaned up the kitchen while I had a shower. Then he showered and played string with the cats while I started to make a picnic lunch for the winter walking excursion that we had planned.

As I was preparing the food, Dan would occasionally call to me to come and look at the cats as they wildly attacked the piece of string he was dragging like a snake across our bed. We do this a lot. It's actually perhaps a bit alarming how cute we think our cats are, and how often we call to each other and to hurry and see them doing something unbelievably adorable.

So as the morning progressed, Dan called to me one more time to come and look at the cats. Our bedroom door was slightly cracked and he was standing outside the door peering through the crack.

"Quick, you have to see this. Come here. Look at the bed."

So of course I had to look, because *duh*. So I pressed my face into the crack of our door and looked at the bed, but didn't see anything.

"What do you think?" Dan whispered.

"I don't know, I don't see anything," I whispered back. "What were they doing?"

"Just keep looking," Dan whispered again.

So then the seconds ticked by and I kept peering through the door like a creep, spying on my cats who were not visible.

"I don't see anything Sweets. But why is the suitcase open on the bed?"

Then Dan giggled. Like the sort of giggle that you've been trying to suppress for weeks and finally you don't have to anymore.

"BECAUSE WE'RE GOING ON A TRIP."

And then I smacked my nose on the door as I recoiled in surprise. A TRIP.

"A trip! WHEN! WHERE! OH MY GOD!"

"We're leaving tonight on the five o'clock train and I'm not telling you where we're going!"

Then I shrieked in happiness and turned around in circles because I was so excited and so confused about what my next move was to be. But what about the cats? And work? And deadlines? But Dan assured me our neighbour was checking in on the cats, he'd already cleared the time off with my work, and we weren't going to be gone so long that I'd fall behind with the extra responsibilities that I've got on the go right now. In fact, it now made sense why he'd been prompting me to just meet one deadline three days earlier than I had to. And it's a good thing I listened!

So then I ran to my computer to finish up a couple of things before I ran to the bedroom to start packing. The only thing he told me was that I had to bring warm clothes and we were taking an airplane. Then I ripped open every single one of my drawers and cried in distress, "But I haven't had a chance to buy a new travelling outfit!"

And then Dan laughed at me.

Does anyone else do this? Whenever I'm going somewhere I always plan my outfits, deem my current wardrobe unacceptable, and then buy a new shirt or two for the trip. But I persevered, packed, and before I knew it we were on the train heading up to the Zurich airport and eating our supposed picnic lunch for dinner on the train.

When we got to the airport I was practically vibrating.

WHERE ARE WE GOING. I CAN'T TAKE IT. I'LL HAVE A STROKE. TELL ME.

So as we stood to check our bags at the Air Berlin counter, Dan told me we weren't going to Berlin. In fact, we were on our way to Vienna and he had every last detail planned.

Vienna.

I was in Vienna this week and it was the coolest surprise I've ever had.

Details and pictures to come.

Friday, 10 February 2012

On Second Thought...

So as I mentioned in my last post, there is a really big yellow icicle hanging from our unsanitary neighbour's deck, courtesy of their two little dogs. I was going to take a picture of this and post it because, well, life is slow and news is boring right now. That yellow icicle is all I have to show for the month of February, so far.

But then Dan intervened and said that posting a yellow icicle on the blog is the equivalent of eating yellow snow; in other words, a really disgusting low.

It would be a step backwards in my illustrious blogging career and then no one will ever take me seriously again and I won't land that big interview with Sir Richard Branson wherein I will ask him to adopt me. Don't worry Mom and Dad you'll still be my real parents, but you don't have your own tropical island or airline to jet me to said island, so as you can see getting into Sir Richard's family tree would benefit all of us. It would make our February's so much more glamorous. Anyhow, the point is when the adoption application crossed his desk it would say in glaring letters: Posted picture of yellow icicle on her blog. She's a liability. Refuse adoption application. Look to Africa or Hollywood for another needy person.

I can't risk it.

I really, really need that tropical island in my future. And if I do get it, it will benefit you too! I'll finally have something to blog about!

Happy weekend, and remember to stay away from the yellow icicles!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Brr!

Okay, so be prepared to be severely underwhelmed by this post. Why? Well, because I'm going to show you some pictures of...snow.

I know!

I can't help it, okay. My life is mondo boring right now and taking pictures of the snow was what my Sunday morning was all about. You're just going to have to deal with it (or not deal with it, in which case you'll stop reading now; I can hardly blame you).

Maybe things will get more exciting in a week.

But probably not.

Anyhow, we're experiencing a bit of an unusual cold front in my part of Switzerland (I think it applies all over the country, actually) and when I watch the news they're all: "It's cold. Look, a dead bird! The bird died because of the cold! Ice. There's ice! The fountains have frozen! Brr."

And let me tell you, people are crazy surprised the fountains have iced over. I haven't been able to make it to Bern lately, but next time I go I will take a picture of people taking pictures of fountain ice.

I promise!

Unless I don't make it Bern in time, and the weather warms up and the ice melts. Then it will just be a regular fountain, and no one will care about it anymore and won't take pictures of it. Except for the one fountain that shows a monster man eating a baby. Actually, I'm surprised I haven't taken a picture of that one. So basically, fear not! You will get a fountain picture in your future!

Anyhow, if you'll recall this time last year I was introducing you to Mr. Goat Willow and his family of catkins. Well Mr. Goat Willow is not pleased with this cold, and he is not allowing his catkins out to play just yet; they're all still tightly budded up, getting cabin fever, and hating the cold because they have their awesome new outfits to show off to Spring but it's too cold to not wear a coat. Poor Mr. Goat Willow, it must be chaos in his house.

So anyhow, the point of all this is to say it's cold out and we have snow.

Here's the pictures to prove it!

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Actually, I do have one more thing to add to this whole it's-cold-so-water-freezes, boring post. So the people who live below us, they have two little dogs and they haven't been taking them outside because it's chilly. This means they've been letting the dogs do their business on their deck (ICK) and they've been scooping and disposing of the number twos, but they've been pushing the number ones into the eavestroughing, and now, when you walk below their deck, there is a really huge YELLOW icicle that hangs over your head.

Needless to say, I'm not looking forward to the thaw.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Home Remedy

Since I've never had a cat before I owned Cosmo, I'm not sure if the same holds true for all felines. But, our two cats both get weepy eyes.

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It's not like they have weepy eyes every month, but about twice a year they each get a case of the weepies. Now when we first got Poppy, her eyes were in horrible shape. They were crusty with goo and they wept all the time. This is probably because the environment she'd been in for eight weeks had been absolutely filthy, and her eyes are a little sensitive to begin with. But all I know is I was going up to the vet's a lot to get eye drops for her.

About eight months after we'd gotten Poppy, we took the cats to an alternative vet (she basically practiced traditional medicine with an incorporation of holistic ideas) who seemed to think she'd be able to curb Cosmo's constant yowling, and while we were there Poppy was having another irritating case of the weepies.

Eye drops were getting expensive, yo!

The vet told us to brew a cup of Earl Grey tea, let it cool OBVIOUSLY, and dip a cotton pad in the cold tea and swab her eye out. Then to keep swabbing her eye out over the course of a few hours for two days.

I gave it a try, and it worked!

In fact, it worked so well that it was at least another six months before she had another case of the weepies.  I don't know what it is about the Earl Grey that works, but now whenever the cats get weepy eyes I just brew some Earl Grey and constantly swab out their eyes every few hours over the course of an evening, maybe two, and it clears the problem right up.

Since Cosmo has a weepy eye right now I've been using the Earl Grey, and again am amazed at how great it works. I thought maybe some other cat owners might find this useful. It really works a trick, and I haven't bought eye drops in six years.

Give it a try!


Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Free Music!

Hey all, my sister's friend Jodi just released her first EP "Little Love Songs".

Here's the link:




You can download the songs for free, during the month of February. And then after February? You should totally buy it.