Connie: Austria & Italy

So this is my first post of the holiday and even though it’s delayed, it’s about Austria and Italy

Saltzburg was really cool. Mozart was born there so I got I be in the room where he was born (and being the musician that I am, it was also cool to see his childhood violin and the whole town is full of these Mozart chocolates and souvenirs). The town does value Mozart, but not “The Sound Of Music”, very surprisingly. Apparently, no one in Salzburg had heard of the movie, even though it’s based in Salzburg.

One of the only things they had was a performance of the movie in a Marionette theatre, (where most of the actors are puppets with strings) and in the scene where the actors in the movie told a show with marionettes, it was marionettes being played by marionettes. Marionettes being played by marionettes?!?! It was so funny and insanely cool at the same time. It was also Heidi’s birthday there, so that was great. Oh, and also there was a lot of churches there too (13 catholic, 2 protestant, 1 synagogue). We went into a catholic one and in it there were four organs! Apparently the best acoustics are in the middle of all four organs.

I remember when I was about 10 or 11 (I can’t remember… or maybe it was 12 I’m not sure) I listened to a sort of kids story while classical music was playing, and it talked about different things in Venice. The canals, all the islands, bridges, and gondolas, and a few other things. Ever since then, I had always wanted I come to Venice and see the city like was described in the story. And now, it’s actually happening. There are absolutely no cars anywhere, or buses (but there is a train station). Boats, many boats, and gondolas as well are what transports people among the many islands surrounding Venice and the actual island itself. There are a ton of churches here too, just like Salzburg, but a lot more. Every direction that you look on the roof of the hotel you can see some sort of church. We went up a bell tower in San Giorgio church and saw lots of great views of Venice. Unfortunately, we also heard the bell ring for the time and it was pretty loud!

Another thing about Venice is that there are lots of selfie sticks for sale and lots of tourists with selfie sticks taking pictures everywhere.

We took a gondola ride down some of the canals it was interesting to see what the city looked like in the 16th and 17th century.

Another thing which is good here is the pizza, pasta, and gelato. Those were the three type of foods I wanted to eat in Italy, and I got to eat all of it (not at the same time though…)! The pizza uses a sort of tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes, and the pasta is cooked fresh when you order, (at least at the place I went to that said EAT IT RIGHT NOW OR YOU SHALL REGRET IT — okay so that is an abridged version, but that was the message I got)! The gelato was good as well, and that was just food in Venice!

Food in Germany/Austria (it’s very similar) is pretty much meat and carbohydrates (bread or German noodles or potatoes or fries which aren’t that much German or French) but the most famous thing there possibly are wursts (sausages, pronounced vurst) which I had with bread once which tasted good. Really good. I don’t usually eat many sausages back home, but these are great. And also there is a thing which is basically breaded pork called schnitzel. I don’t quite know how to describe it but it does taste good.

And the snacks in the German world? Well, the gummies are the best here (as Haribo is based in Germany) and also have you ever seen a soft baked pretzel before? Well in Germany they are also really good. We ate at least one pretzel a day when we were in Germany! In Austria they also had GIANT SOFT BAKED PRETZELS but they were really giant and it took me ages to eat it, so they were not the best thing but it was interesting to try something new.

We also went to Vienna for a day, and the highlight was going to a music museum. You could virtually conduct the Vienna orchestra and I conducted very nicely. Heidi did good on the first try then she was being silly and one of the musicians good up and said “This is not real conducting!” It was very funny watching that happen.

We’re in Switzerland right now. Hope everyone is having a great summer!

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Our first day in Venice, complete with requisite picture on a bridge

Our first day in Venice, complete with requisite picture on a bridge

The next stop on our trip was Venice — what a unique place. We enjoyed three days exploring lots of the big and little sights of Venice, as well as some of the neighboring islands which are just as interesting.

Venice is grand, interesting, and beautiful, but it is also in decay; a city that certainly feels like its best times were many years ago. Despite that, it’s still charming and so unique.

Burano Island is absolutely lovely; so much colour

Burano Island is absolutely lovely; so much colour

On our first day we visited two islands near Venice: Murano and Burano. Burano in particular was a worthwhile stop, even though it’s a 45-minute ride on the water taxi from Venice proper. The buildings here are much brighter and possibly not restricted in the way that the building codes are in the rest of Venice. This picture on the left is one of my favourites so far.

View of St. Mark's Square from the bell tower at San Giorgio

View of St. Mark’s Square from the bell tower at San Giorgio

We were staying at a hostel called Bed & Venice, which we would certainly recommend if you are the hosteling type. It’s at a great location just 5 minutes from the main St. Mark’s Square, and yet also close to areas east of the island that feel more residential and authentic. Our room also had air conditioning, which was a welcome relief after some very hot days in Germany and Austria.

We managed to avoid the large crowds by seeing the big sights early or late in the day (there’s a handy top tip if you’re a tourist) — St. Mark’s Square was particularly enjoyable at night, although you still had to contend with street vendors and the flashing toys they were selling, which sort of took away from the overall 18th century splendor of the place.

This was our second hostel in a row with a rooftop terrace -- a great view!

This was our second hostel in a row with a rooftop terrace — a great view!

St. Mark's Square is beautiful at night, if you can ignore the flashing lights from hawkers trying to sell you light-up toys

St. Mark’s Square is beautiful at night, if you can ignore the flashing lights from hawkers trying to sell you light-up toys

On our last day we splurged and paid for a gondola ride; something the girls were particularly interested in experiencing. I expect this may not be the last expensive gondola ride we pay for, considering that Switzerland is up next.

And despite rain & thunder in the forecast, we were lucky to have three gorgeous days — only on the day we left did it cloud over and rain. So far, so good.

Next up, it’s a couple of days of scenic train journeys through the Alps!

We decided to splurge on a gondola ride. Rachel and I had the 'love seats', but the girls had the better view...

We decided to splurge on a gondola ride. Rachel and I had the ‘love seats’, but the girls had the better view…

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Vienna for a Day

We had our own compartment on our train from Salzburg to Vienna, with seats that could convert to a little bed!

We had our own compartment on our train from Salzburg to Vienna, with seats that could convert to a little bed!

When we were planning our trip, we wanted to travel from Salzburg to Venice on a night train. However, that train leaves Salzburg at 12:30am, far too late for those of us that need their beauty sleep. So we opted to take the two-hour trip to Vienna and enjoy a day in the world’s most livable city, before catching the night train from its origin at a much more civilized time of 9:30pm.

Side view of the grand state opera house in Vienna

Side view of the grand state opera house in Vienna

We walked through the main part of the city while listening to another Rick Steve’s audio tour. His honest yet noticeable appeals to purchase his guidebooks is becoming a running family joke during our trip. We took a moment out of the walk to tour the state opera house — a very large and fancy facility but sadly 75% of it was destroyed during WWII so most of the building features architecture from the 1950’s.

Heidi, in full operatic regalia

Heidi, in full operatic regalia

We also visited the “Haus Der Musik”, which was a bit hit & miss. Heidi, Connie, and Rachel all did well at being a virtual conductor of the Vienna Symphony orchestra; Heidi had a few goes and was eventually doing her own impression of Mr. Bean, conducting with one hand while looking back at towards the audience.

Soon we were back at the train station, where we ended up having to wait an extra 40 minutes for our train to depart (our best laid plans did not quite come to fruition). Eventually we were off to Venice…

Our sleeping compartment from Vienna to Venice

Our sleeping compartment from Vienna to Venice

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Frankfurt & Salzburg

Guten Tag, and welcome to Germany/Austria, where the weather is hot and the pretzels are plentiful.

Coffee and cake with Mike's family in Germany

Coffee and cake with Mike’s family in Germany

We left England on Sunday after a lovely (albeit quick) visit with the Cole family while we waited at Bristol airport, and then we arrived in Frankfurt to spend a few days with my (Mike’s) extended family.

It’s been unexpectedly hot here on the continent, with temperatures in the low to mid 30s. Still, that’s better than rain, and I expect that things will cool down a bit when we head to the Alps of Switzerland.

On our way from Frankfurt

On our way from Frankfurt

In Frankfurt we visited with my Oma, who is 101 and still doing well. We went to some swimming pools and stocked up on Haribo gummies — nothing too strenuous. Then on Wednesday we were on our way from Frankfurt to Salzburg via Munich.

Salzburg is really nice. A manageable city with lots of open squares and a focus on music. On the mountain that overlooks the city is a fortress that has famously never been breached, unless you count the numerous tourists that attack it daily. We also enjoyed our first #RickSteves guided audio tour, which was fine although I felt a bit self-conscious with my headphones on while we walked through a couple of churches.

Our first Rick Steves audio tour in Salzburg

Our first Rick Steves audio tour in Salzburg

The gazebo used in the filming of the Sound of Music

The gazebo used in the filming of the Sound of Music

Mirabel Gardens in Salzburg with the fortress in the distance

Mirabel Gardens in Salzburg with the fortress in the distance

Today (Aug 14) is Heidi’s birthday, and we celebrated with a gummy cake from the nearby gummy bear store. In the evening we watched a marionette performance of the Sound of Music — what an amazing show and a wonderful way to end our three days here.

Tomorrow we take the train to Vienna for a quick one-day visit before catching the overnight train to Venice. Word has it that our accommodations in Venice has air conditioning… hooray!

Want to see more pictures? You can go to our flickr page!

Heidi's gummy birthday cake

Heidi’s gummy birthday cake

Here we are after watching the wonderful performance of the Sound of Music by the marionette puppeteers

Here we are after watching the wonderful performance of the Sound of Music by the marionette puppeteers

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Hello World!

zzzzz…*snort*… ?

Hello? Wow looks like I slept for just about four years! We’re in England at the moment and we’re about to head out on a family trip to Europe for a few weeks, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to revive the blog. I will save the post that summarizes the last four years for another day.

Tidal pool beach at Ilfracombe

Tidal pool beach at Ilfracombe

So yes, we’re in Devon at the moment visiting family here. It’s surprisingly sunny today, although we’ve had a bit of everything during the past week. Nothing like the 30+ temperatures in Vancouver that we left at the end of July though, thankfully. When we depart on Sunday we will be going to Germany to see my Gran, who is 101 now. After a couple of days in Frankfurt we then head off to Austria, a little stop in Venice, and then over to Switzerland for a couple of weeks. We finish our trip in Prague before heading back home again.

We’ve had a shorter stay in England this year than we normally do, but we’ve still been able to see the family and enjoy some important activities like watching the cricket at Somerset and eating a carvery lunch (or, in my case, a mixed grill with generous portions of meat).

I’ve set up a page where you can hopefully track our posts, if you’re interested. I’m also uploading pictures to a flickr album. Feel free to drop us a line in the comments or on Facebook.

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Our kitchen stuff before being packed

After 10 1/2 weeks our shipment containing most of our worldly goods finally arrived yesterday. One wonders how we managed all this time with just the stuff we could more or less carry ourselves…

It’s a useful exercise, going without most of your possessions for a while. And here’s a secret that flies in the face of that pervasive modern religion of capitalism: you don’t need most of what you own.

There’s a show on TV here at the moment that we’ve been watching called Consumed. It’s an expert-help reality type show, where each week features a different family who is clearly swimming in way too much stuff. They usually have more laundry than they can physically fit in their storage spaces, an extra room filled with junk, and things piled all over the floors. We’re not quite talking Hoarders, but certainly these folks are drowning in their own possessions.

The expert of the show engages in an experiment where the family is only allowed to keep the bare essentials, and everything else is removed from the house for 30 days — furniture, clothes, kitchen stuff, everthing. They just get one pot, a table setting each, a suitcase each to keep clothes for the month, and a few “luxury items” to ease the shock factor.

After a month they go to the storage facility where their stuff has been kept, and they try to purge at least half of their belongings (toss, donate, or keep). They often come to realize that they don’t need so many things and that their lives are better when they have fewer possessions.

Imagine that – a Canadian/American Television show that actually espouses the value of having fewer things! It creates a strange dichotomy when the advertisements during the show are trying to convince you to buy things.

Consumerism is pervasive in North American culture; far more than English culture I think. While we were living in Bristol it occurred to me why Costco has failed to make major inroads over there: people just don’t have the space to keep large bulk items. My English friends may wish they had a larger house or more room, but beware: larger houses and more space creates the implied need to fill the space.

But I’ve found it freeing to start to get rid of things. We purged before we left for England, and over the last three weeks we’ve been purging again before our stuff arrived. I hope we continue to reassess and purge some more; I think there’s great value in learning to be content with less. Not to say that I have this completely figured out yet, but I think I’m starting to get it. 10+ weeks without things will have that affect on you.

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The New Chapter

We’ve been back here in Canada for just over three weeks now; wow it all seems to be going by so quickly. Especially since I’ve stopped blogging or journaling about our holiday…

I’ve re-branded the blog because, well, we’re not going to be travelling on trains anymore. I figure I’ll keep this blog running and post occasionally about things. I know it’s not as exciting as a travel blog, and it’s not as exotic as a “living in another country” blog, but as a means of communicating with people, I really like it — a blog allows you to write to a wide audience where you know that only people who are interested will read it. And, of course, it reveals who your real friends are — let it be known that I will insert key facts in these here posts that I may quiz you on if I happen upon you in person. No, not really.

Our transition back to BC has been interesting. My intention is to write a bit about what that transition has been like and how we’re doing, without getting too personal about things (this is the Internet, after all). Today is not about substantial details though; let’s ease back into things first.

Our shipment with all of our stuff we had in England has not yet arrived here, making life a little awkward at the moment. We have only those things that we took on our trip (where we were packing for the sunny climates of Florida and California), and things we left here at the house that we haven’t used in over a year (my selection of 1990’s technology books are handy bedtime reading). Our stuff should be arriving within the next two weeks; that will certainly help in terms of settling back in.

Our stuff in the storage room

The things we left behind

In the meatime, we are sorting through this room –>

Ok I’ll keep it to that for now; hopefully more to come over the next weeks and months.

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