Poutine eh!!

Today it is winter. I woke up to a thick layer of wet snow covering everything. While beautiful I had a mild panic attack cause I’m not ready for winter at the farm. I have to do the “pick up everything that is going to be buried under the snow cause I won’t see it till spring ” dance. And now everything is buried under the snow. I’m really feeling the cold here too–it was so much warmer in Europe. And to top it off I officially have my first cold of the season. Blah !!! And jet lag–I’m awake at midnight and can’t get back to sleep till 4am.

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So feeling less than energetic and knowing how much I have to do, my solution has been to veg on the couch and watch back to back episodes of “House” with my darling daughter who took today off to stay home with me. In the true spirit of mother/daughter bonding, we did chores together, stopped at the pump house on the way in for some freshly dug by my son garden potatoes, and channeled our inner glutton by having scrummy poutine.

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Nothing like a vat of burbling oil turning garden potatoes into crispy sticks of starchy goodness, layered with ooey gooey cheese swimming in salty gravy topped with tangy ketchup. Yum. I have to start walking again 🙂
But now am just feeling sorry for myself–can’t sleep, can’t breath, it’s midnight I have nothing to read–going to wake up tired and still have a million things to do. These midnight panic attacks are nothing new though–didn’t take me long to go from Hakuna matata on the camino to OMG it’s winter and I’m not ready mode. My daughter is back to work tomorrow so I’ll have to just start doing what I can. Baby steps.

When will I learn??

Aaarrrggh!!!! Just lost my whole post. Again!!! I wish there was an undo button on this damn thing. I was just ranting about the airline rules on weights and dimensions. I had stressed so much about the size and weight of the extra bag I was bringing home with pressies. The Icelandair rules were pretty clear. Only two bags. 23 kilos each, dimensions not to exceed 162cm. My bag was about 26/27 kilos but I was prepared to pull some things out at checkin if they were going to charge me. The over weight charge was listed at 94 Euros whether you were 1 k or 20 k over the limit. At least that was what the rules said. What they secretly meant was–whatever you want to bring is ok with us. There were bags there twice the size of mine and no one cared. It was like, yeah, whatever…I so could have brought some things I left cause of the weight. Why am I always the one to follow the rules? Why do I care so much about these things?? No one else does…gah!!!!!

Adi drove me to the train and helped me with my bag. The train ride was lovely as always. I saw lots of deer and pheasants and beautiful little villages. The train speed was 220k–there was a monitor–but we had to stop and move some cars around so were 20 minutes late getting into Munich. That meant I missed my airport shuttle but it went every 10/15 minutes from the hofbahnhof so no biggy. Got to the airport and checked in my ” little” bag and then thru security. I thought I would have some time to poke around but while I wasn’t close to missing my flight, everything took just a little longer than expected. I had to stand in line for some food too cause icelandair doesn’t serve food. Then really, right onto the plane. A three and a half hour flight to Reykjavik and then we transferred right into the second leg of the flight. I had some concerns about my bags though cause the people watching the crew unload bags were remarking at the rough treatment the bags were getting. I had visions of my bottles of booze being smashed. Six and a half hours to Edmonton. This flight was relatively empty. I had three seats to myself so got to lay down and snooze. My darling daughter was there to meet me. Got my bags, went thru customs with no problems (even though I had declared my cheese and over limit for booze) again no one cared. Just waved me thru. Then home sweet home.

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My daughter is fostering two little kittens so I had help unpacking!!

Auf wiedersein

So today is my last day. I packed yesterday and repacked this morning. My second bag weighs a ton and I don’t understand why. Surely I didn’t buy that much stuff. I have a contingency plan. Assuming I get to Munich in one piece and my bag is too heavy I have a carry bag and I can off load some “things” to carry on. Aaarrrggh. I’ve never travelled so heavy in my life. But it will be fine.

I found a poster of the World War I exhibit in one of the subway stations. This is the girl whose face I thought was so haunting.

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I had to go say good bye to my aunt. This was hard. She will be 90 next month and has had a couple strokes. I hate good byes.

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This afternoon we went back to the housing display to have another look at the houses. I just needed something to do to get my mind off how heavy my bags are and the whole travelling day tomorrow. It’s been very cold in Vienna these last couple days. Still the end of that storm system I think. But supposed to be nice tomorrow.

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Good night.

Bliss

Today a lady made a house visit to do everyone’s feet. I had my sister make me a podiatrist appointment for when I get home but even from two weeks ago the appointment won’t be till the second week of December. So I jumped at the chance to have a pro go over my overworked feet. Eva took off all the rough edges and worked on all the blisters. She confirmed I would loose that toenail, just a matter of time. I told her about the waiting list and that even our old folks have to wait a long time for an appointment. No one comes to the nursing homes, which is the norm in England where our NB podiatrist trained and worked and also here in Austria. I told her that the nurses take a two day course to do foot care and she snorted very derisively. She had taken a three year course and constant upgrades. She is not a podiatrist per se but certainly knows her way around a foot. I thought how terrible it was that we had to fight so hard to get our mothers’ feet looked at and the result of the “trained” nurses’ intervention was a foot infection and the consequent removal of a portion of her toenail. Sigh. Anyway my feet are happy feet. I then went for a wander thru the market again. I was looking for a suitcase/duffle to haul all my treasures homes in. No luck. But I did find a wurstlestand selling punch.

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I’m not sure what the difference between gluewine and punch is–both are hot wine beverages. I just know they are very tasty. In the afternoon we went to pick up my second cousins and headed off for a mine tour just south of Vienna. This is a gypsum mine that was accidentally flooded in 1912 and now is privately owned and public tours are offered. We started by walking 500 meters horizontally thru a low tunnel and then into the mine. This mine served many masters over the years and during the war pow’s and concentration camp inmates worked in an airplane factory deep underground.
The mine ponies were often deliberately blinded or became blind over the years of working underground. I thought of the pit ponies in England who got two weeks a year above ground. My cousin thought it might be better never to go up as they would then know what they were missing. I can only think how happy the ponies would be once they were out in the sunshine.

Part of the tour included a boat ride thru the flooded levels. The largest underground lake in Europe.

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There is a big hall underground that is used for a variety of private functions. Then we headed back to Vienna thru the rain. We are being hit now with the tail end of tropical storm/hurricane Gonzalo so the weather has been very unsettled but it is supposed to clear for the weekend. One more day.

Countdown to going home

Yesterday and today were just taking it easy kind of days. Nothing special to do and nothing special accomplished. My cousin took me out to see her little garden house and then I just sort of wandered around, picking up some ingredients to make pork goulash and spaetzle. I haven’t cooked for two months and all the wandering thru the market gave me itchy fingers. I really enjoyed prepping the food and cooking the goulash yesterday afternoon. We watched a nature show on tv last night while my stew burbled away on the stove. This morning I made another trip to the market for salad ingredients, milk , more schmaltz as I had used the last batch up in the goulash, and some nutmeg. Of course as I walked thru I also picked up a lovely bunch of chives, some parsley , tomatoes, fresh buns and three different kinds of lettuce. It’s cold today and last night we got whacked by the tail end of Gonzo, or Gonzales or whatever this most recent storm is called. Lots of wind and rain. But cold enough the lettuce will keep out on the balcony. There’s no room in the fridge. I made the spaetzle when I got home after a yummy breakfast of schmaltz on my fresh buns with sliced tomatoes. I can’t eat like this when I get home but I’m sure enjoying it now 🙂 This afternoon I spent with my aunt looking at old pictures. I found a couple of my grandmother as a young woman which is really what I had wanted. Then to pick up a herbal liqueur for my sister. It was on sale this week so that was easy. I also did a trial pack of my suitcase. I think everything will fit. I have to go thru it again. And now maybe a movie then bed. I will do a proper pack tomorrow and see what condition my condition is in.

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City built on salt

Hallstatt is a prehistoric village dating back to the Celts of almost 1000bc. It’s claim to fame is the salt mine which has been mined for the last three thousand years. After the Celts came the Romans. Both an old Celtic burial ground and a Roman one were found nearby and were methodically excavated in the mid 1800’s. There is a museum here displaying the archeological finds from nearly 1000 graves. Salt continued to be mined and in the early 1600’s a pipeline made of thousands of hollowed out trees fed liquid brine to tanks downstream. The city itself is built on an alluvial plain at the mouth of a roaring mountain stream. The stream was tamed and the main force was channeled away from the center of town. There was really not much area to build on so the residents built up the side of the mountain. There are approximately 900 permanent residents living in houses which are many hundreds of years old. In fact there was no room for a road and an upper path was created by making a foot path thru peoples attics. Vehicles traffic is still limited and most houses are only accessed by foot. There are two large churches and up until the eighties, with such limited burial ground, bones were disinterred and removed every 15-20 years. The skulls and big bones were cleaned, painted and placed in an ossuary building to allow new burials. Once the church allowed cremations the practise of removing bodies ceased unless specifically requested in the will of the deceased.

I headed out early in the morning to the Westbahnhof to catch the train to Hallstatt. I got a coffee at Mcdonalds just to see what it was like. Very good. And the selection of cakes in the display case were pretty awesome and definitely not North American. I also got a train sandwich because you cannot travel on the train without a train sandwich.

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So then an enjoyable three hour train ride. I love trains. There’s something so relaxing about sitting and watching the world go by and not having to drive. And thru all the alpine villages with beautiful houses, seeing sheep and goats and cows. I didn’t know that the train doesn’t actually go into the village of Hallstatt. It actually stops across the lake and the train ferry meets you to take you across the lake to the village. The water was like glass, it was warm and sunny, a beautiful fall day.

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So I started to wander then I thought as I’m only here for about six hours I better check what there is to see. I knew there was a new chairlift up the mountain and the guidebook said follow the signs for the salt mountain, Salzburg. So I did. I went up. And up. And up. And more up. The path snaked up the side of the mountain and I finally reached a lookout where the remains of the torrential river that used to run thru the middle of town were diverted and a small portion channeled thru town.

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It was pretty creepy walking out on that wire walkway. It looked like it was put together with twist ties. I took a few quick pictures and beat a quick retreat.

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So in this next picture you can see down below another bridge.

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Now from this picture you can see up to the twist tie bridge.

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I’m still far above the churches. But now going down. And down and more down. My poor knees.

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Finally I came out at the church yard and cemetery. It was beautiful. I saw the ossuary. And some beautiful fall flowers displays in the church.

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And from here I wandered. Around the village. Had a beer in the main square. And then lunch was a donair down by the lake. It was such a beautiful day. But apparently Hallstatt has one of the highest rates of suicide in Austria, the reason is theorized as the claustrophobia of being trapped by the mountain and the lake. Probably the hordes of tourists doesn’t help either even though the money generated by tourists must be immense. This is the view from my beer. And my donair.

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I wasn’t sure if it was a Korean photo shoot or Japanese but Hallstatt is very popular with that part of the world. Then a boat ride back across the lake and home. Wonderful day!!!

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Apricot schnapps

Today I went with my cousin Herbert and his wife, Elfi. We drove out to the Wachau, the valley of apricots. When I was here last it was spring and all the apricot trees were in full bloom. Now in fall they were losing their leaves. This is the valley in which the Venus of Willindorf was found. There have been vineyards and fruit trees here for thousands of years. It’s about an hours’ drive from Vienna to Krems/Stein. We drove into Stein, a small village with the original Bailoni distillery that makes the world famous apricot schnapps.

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We parked the car with intentions of walking across the Wachau to Durnstein and returning to Stein on the boat. The Wachau valley follows the Danube river. We headed out thru the village and up a very steep climb. Why do all these walks start with killer climbs ?!? It was beautiful naturlich, and thank goodness for my camera as I had the excuse of stopping to catch my breath.

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It was foggy but the sun poked it’s face out every now and then. Once we reached the crest it was a really delightful walk thru leaves and trees. Really beautiful. We came to a rest stop and had smaltzbrot mit zweible (black bread with lard and onions, much more appetizing than it sounds as the lard is actually drippings from a roast pork with all the scrummy juices stirred in , topped with thin sliced onions and a dash of paprika) and a glass of sturm.

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Then came the downhill. We had to make the boat by three o’clock and wouldn’t you know it we took a wrong turn. Three times I’ve been out now, once alone and got myself lost , once with Adi and we got lost and now with Herbert and we also got lost. The markings leave something to be desired. It’s not the camino. I was never lost there–at least, not for long. By the time we found the right trail we started our descent. It was very steep and both Elfie and I have bad knees. So we slowly crippled our way down the mountain and we began to realize we would not make the boat. I was disappointed as a Danube cruise , even for a short time, would have been great. But even if we hurried, we couldn’t make it and we were also coming right down by the Durnstein castle. I didn’t want to miss it. The last time I was here I was 15 years old. We met a guy on the way down out walking his pet llamas.

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Durnstein is the castle Richard the Lion Heart was imprisoned in on his way home from the crusades. My father told us this story when when we were kids, sitting around the fire pit at the lake. I even remember the troubadours’ name who found Richard; Blondel. Richard was imprisoned by the German Duke Leopoldo V. An exorbitant ransom was being asked but the location they were keeping him was kept a secret. Blondel travelled incognito in Germany to all the castles. Legend has it that he sang a particular song that he and Richard wrote together and at Durnstein, when he sang , he heard Richard join in the song. Siege was laid to the castle and Richard was freed. The ruins of Durnstein are still perched above the Danube. So we stopped for an explore as we were missing the boat anyway. We actually saw it sailing away. Bye boat!!! Such an incredible construction. How did they built something so mammoth in such an inaccessible place?? Great place for defence but how was it built ? Then we continued down the mountain. It was really a killer descent and my legs were shaking by the end. We called Simon to come drive Herbert back to the car, and had several glasses of the local wine while we were waiting. Then off to a heurigen for supper. We took a ferry across the Danube and ate at an authentic wine Keller. These particular places are not allowed to serve anything hot, that would class them as a restaurant, so we had a cold meat platter, incredible bread and local wine. Then the long drive back to vienna. Herbert is an excellent driver and I really snoozed on the way home. Fantastic day!!

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Blues in Vienna

Saturday morning was spent exploring the oldest graveyard in Vienna. It fell into decay and is now being rehabilitated, mostly by university students. The shrubs are being cleared away and the engraving in the headstones is being refreshed. The before pictures show a terrible mess of fallen stones, trees and shrubs.

Last night we went out to a little beer house to listen to some live music. The musicians had never played together before and had never rehearsed but they were obviously professionals and it amounted to a live jam session. Absolutely first class blues. Danny Chicago (pronounced Chi as in Chiquita) also came on stage and did a few numbers. Stage is a little descriptive–the room was maybe a generous 30×50 with a bar at one end and the band at the other, and 30/40 people all crammed in drinking beer and smoking (still legal in bars apparently or else they just didn’t care) having a great time. The band was four main players, the drummer was originally from New York but married to an Austrian and living 26 years in Vienna. Not sure about the rest of them, the band leader is a friend of Adis and doesn’t speak any English, a base player and lead guitar. The lead guitar player was fantastic. Then it seemed like everyone in the audience was also a musician cause they all brought instruments and would take turns playing a song or three. One fellow brought about eight different harmonicas, spread them all out and would play along, soloing frequently. I really enjoyed it. Danny Chicago has a web site. I’m not sure if he actually has any music on there or just concert locations but he may also be on utube if you want to check him out. Great blues.

Museum day

Today was a rainy day. A museum kind of day. There were posters in many of the train stations promoting an exhibition of photos from the First World War in Vienna. I had really wanted to see this so Adi and I headed out into the rain. The exhibition focused on civilian life during the war, about how many people, just like in England figured it would all be over by Christmas. Of course as the casualty rates soared and food became scare the shine quickly wore off. Civilians, particularly children , were of course most affected. Many refugees poured into Vienna hoping for a better life and the city simply couldn’t cope. There was a great food shortage and many people starved. My grandmother was alive during this time, with a young family, and as children we heard many stories of the hardships of life at this time. The photos were very interesting and one in particular was quite haunting. A young girl standing on the street beside a soldier with a dog (dogs were used to collect money–they had panniers attached that people could drop coins into). The look on her face goes right into you. I wish there had been a print. But this is the image in the train stations. I will try to take a photo of it. Then Adi and Hanni headed home. I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do with the rest if my day but I had wanted to see the city art museum. This is a companion museum to the natural history museum on Maria Theresa place. These were purpose built to display the great art collections of the state. The natural history museum is home to the tiny statue of the Venus of Willindorf. I headed over and was surprised there was no line. I thought every tourist in Vienna would be there cause what else do you do in Vienna in the rain ?

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This painting is part of the permanent collection of the Wien museum. Of course I never wrote names down thinking I could remember them but I loved this painting for the expression in the woman’s face, hard to see here in this photo. Her posture and expression were so self confidant, like a cat, “I’m beautiful, adore me already then let’s go for a coffee !!” I think the artist is a contemporary of Gustav Klimt. The Kunsthistorishes museum has a huge collection of Greek and Egyptian art, as well as many European paintings from the early 1500’s.

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The museum itself is a work of art.

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All the salons have comfy couches where you can sit to admire the paintings of your choice.

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I spent a delightful afternoon here looking at many of my favorite familiar paintings in the flesh as it were. But then I was STARVING. I hadn’t yet had a wiener schnitzel so I googled the best schnitzel in Vienna and found my way there. Actually very simple on the tram. And I ordered schnitzel.

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I can’t believe I ate the whole thing. But it was soooo good. The salad you see is a kraut salad, the perfect sour vinegary foil to the fried in butter crunchy yet tender pork fillet that is a Wiener schnitzel. Of course traditional schnitzel is veal but I’m opposed to veal for so many reasons and really prefer pork anyway. Delish. Not completely satisfied I attempted to find my ice cream shop of the other day but it was getting late and I was feeling fat and lazy so after a half hearted attempt I gave up and went home. Wonderful day.

Toilets

I was warned when I left for Spain that I would never find a toilet stocked with toilet paper. So I always carried several packets of tissues with me, one in my skirt pocket and two or three more packets in my shoulder bag. I didn’t want to run out. This was truly an exaggeration as I found toilet paper in almost every toilet in Spain and certainly there were fewer toilets without paper in Spain than in Canada. What I NEVER found in the bathrooms is Spain was hot water and paper towels and seldom found soap or the actual toilet seat. I’m not sure how people washed their hands, as the public toilets were also the staff toilets. Sometimes it’s better not to know these things. All I know is I never got sick and the food was delicious. Of course coming to Austria, there is not only toilet paper, but hot water, soap, paper towels, disinfectant for hands and toilet seats, toilets seat covers, and today, I experienced a self cleaning toilet seat in the brand new train station. I flushed a second time just so I could video the disinfecting arm come out, spin the toilet seat like a vinyl record and then disappear again. Unbelievable. In Japan the toilets in the five star hotels we stayed in would wash and dry your bum (too much information?!?). And on the Philosophers Path in Kyoto there was a toilet that was just a trough with a place for your feet on either side. No paper either. And all the public toilets played birdsong to cover the sounds made by patrons using the toilets with the possibility of turning up the volume if needed. Today in the new Vienna train station birdsong was also playing.

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Some of the toilets were surprisingly modern with fold down safety bars (but still no hot water or soap or towels). And the markings were all different as far as men’s and women’s toilets went. When there was a line up it didn’t matter what was on the door, we just used the first available one. This particular designation appealed cause I thought it bore a striking resemblance to me…except for the long hair 🙂

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Yesterday I went with my cousin to Mariahilferstrasse. This is a popular shopping area. I came here the other day in the metro but went several stops too far. This is where I found that great ice cream place and where I may go back to tomorrow. I actually went off the main drag. I’ve found that the more interesting shops are not on the main drag but off to one side. There were some great textile shops, and paper shops. I cruised down the street one one side then back again on the other. I found a great place for lunch and had a schnitzel with red beet salad. Delish!!!

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Then I explored down the main street making sure I stopped often for a coffee or something just to get off my feet. I don’t know why but everything hurts. Maybe just too much walking. I’m also out of naproxin and haven’t had any for several weeks. That could be it. Could also be a magnesium deficiency so I bought some today. I think I will go to the apothek tomorrow and see about some naproxin. But anyway I soon found myself down by the museum quarter do I walked into to old town to pick up a Steiff toy for my sister. Then home. This morning I had a relaxing time grocery shopping with my cousin and then a bracing walk after lunch down to the Belvedere castle with Adi. We stopped at the construction site of the
new train station. There is a tower erected near the site do the locals can go up and watch the construction. It’s a very impressive train station , the largest now in the EU, and really state of the art. I stopped at a drug store on the way home for some magnesium. I really don’t understand why I’m so sore

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Aidan I found some of your plants at the grocery store this morning. Aren’t they gorgeous?

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And in the old town I spotted the coolest little three wheel truck. I actually think it was a motorbike or a scooter with a box around it.

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The Belvedere was beautiful. There was a display of bamboo out the back. In the right temperature it grows like a weed.

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A relaxing evening watching a Bavarian detective show on TV and now bed. I hope I don’t hurt so much tomorrow. Night 🙂