Just a few Juliets in Verona

IMG_8585fullsizeoutput_5a4I really have some awesome girlfriends here in Innsbruck. They planned a surprise bachelorette get-away for me months in advanced. Only when we were driving in the car did I learn where we were going – to Verona! The hometown of Romeo’s Juliet! What American girl gets to go to Italy for her bachelorette trip?? So special! IMG_5099We had an excellent Air BNB right outside of the colosseum. We wandered a bit and of course had to stop by Juliet’s famous balcony. Though we didn’t write any love letters ourselves, we read some of the notes that other visitors had left for Juliet. We had a delicious lunch in a charming outdoor café with a canopy of vines to provide shade. We then stopped for some Aperol spritzes at cozy bar along the Adige River that runs through the city.

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Just a trip to Verona was not all these girls had planned. They were taking me to a Lumineers concert in a castle! It was a great show and in such a cool place. Everyone was singing along and went crazy when they started “Ho Hey”. I think I still have “Ophelia” in my head! The girls even got me a sparkly “bride to be crown” to wear! And then after the concert, we did what would be unthinkable in Innsbruck. We went to a café after midnight and ordered pizzas (and more Aperols)!

IMG_7173After an amazing day in Verona, the girls had even more surprises in store for me. We drove to Lake Garda. We stopped at a town that the girls had visited before, Lazise. It was so cute walking through the tiny streets and out onto the lake front. We dipped our toes in the water and giggled as we tried to shake the sand off when it came time to put our shoes back on. IMG_3271We ate a late morning snack (Aperol spritzes and a fruit platter) at a restaurant with a gorgeous view of the lake. We spent the afternoon driving along the lake shore and stopped at Riva at the top of the lake for one last gelato.

It really was a very special trip that I won’t soon forget!

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Polaroids taken by Selina!

Wedding planning abroad: logistics

Once the wedding location was chosen, the real work started. The first struggle was with the invitations. We decided to have two ceremonies, one in the castle and one in my hometown church. People had to be given Save the Dates and invites to both or one of the locations and in a language they understood. So that led us to making 3 different Save the Date designs, 2 different invitations and 3 styles of RSVP cards. For anyone who has planned a wedding before, you’d know how difficult it is to even pick one design! Thanks to our design and print companies in the US and in Austria, they turned out great.

One thing I am struggling with is my need to involve Reinhard in everything. I know it’s getting old for him too. My German knowledge doesn’t contain the necessary negotiation vocabulary involved in wedding planning. So the poor guy even has to call around at the hairdresser to see who can fit in a “large” group of women (there are only 4 of us, but that’s apparently too many for Tirolean shops to handle). I still don’t have one as of today, so if you have any suggestions for a Kufstein Friseur, let me know!

And don’t even get me started about the wedding dress. I really shouldn’t complain, but of course I will. My parents bought my dress for me in the US when I went to visit in February. It was perfect and beautiful and just had to have it. The shop had to order it, which meant it had to be shipped to Austria from the US. Let me tell you that DHL charges an absolutely crazy amount to ship a dress and charges whatever INSANELY high customs fees they feel like. The dress didn’t even leave the US and they were already demanding customs fees – so clearly they were making them up. A tip for you international brides – don’t use DHL unless you like throwing away money. But I got the dress and then I had to be brave enough to go alone to the seamstress for some alterations. Of course bridal dress alterations is not a vocab lesson in German class, so I was struggling there. Fun fact, a train is called a Schleppe in German, as in ‘to schlep around fabric’. I forgot about the need to have the dress bustled for the reception, though I’m sure the seamstress asked me. I was just afraid she wanted to shorten my Schleppe so I kept saying no! So I had to go back a week and a half later (with a German-speaking girlfriend this time!) to describe what I needed. Let’s hope it turns out alright!

There are some pretty funny Austrian wedding customs that I’m not so sure how we will follow. Reini went suit shopping with his Best Man and sister. He said he thought it was so funny how all the grooms’ suits were so shiny! But he wasn’t tempted by the shine – he got a regular one. Furthermore, from what my groom said, it sounds like suit rentals aren’t really a thing here. So once you buy your shiny suit – you’re stuck with it! (kinda like with a wedding dress though….) Another funny tradition in the stealing of the bride. This one I know Reini does want, so we might take it but with some rules… The friends of the groom steal the bride away during the couple’s first dance. And the girlfriends of the bride are supposed to steal the groom away too. Then they go away from the wedding site and get drinks at a bar somewhere for like an hour. I’d much rather stay at the very expensive event I had planned for a year than go to a bar, so we’ll see what happens with this one…

Food plays a big role in any wedding, but it definitely does here too. I saw in one of Reini’s friends’ weddings that the bridal couple breaks a huge pretzel during the ceremony. The person who gets the larger piece (usually turns out to be the bride) is said to have the dominant position in the marriage. Goulash seems to be a topic of conversation. Austrian weddings last super late into the night/morning so a midnight snack is expected. All the castles have talked about their goulash… but I’m just not impressed. It’s hard to eat and messy. So we have an alternative planned that I was told our Bavarian guests will find really funny.

Language and customs differences are definitely providing extra challenges to the wedding planning experience, but at least I have an excellent partner who is willing to learn about wedding hair trials and corsage styles just to make me have the most special day.

Wedding planning abroad: Venue shopping

Wedding planning is no easy task, couple that with a mega language barrier and you’ve got quite a challenge! More about that in another post. After our engagement in Portugal, Reini and I have been planning for not one but two weddings. We decided to have two events so that we would be able to celebrate with both sets of families and friends. As a girl who grew up watching Disney princess movies, I, of course, wanted to have a castle wedding. Luckily enough, Austria has a bunch! Reinhard and I went castle venue shopping this past fall after setting up some appointments. We saw some pretty awesome ones! One must consider that as castles are really old buildings, their layouts are not designed for weddings. These real castles are designed to keep bad guys out and not so much for Cinderella-esque balls. But with a little creativity, a modern bride can see the absolute beauty in these structures. Abundant candle lighting is all an authentic castle needs to create an utterly romantic atmosphere.

viewIMG_1998cyIMG_1972The first castle we visited was Schloss Friedberg. I’m not 100% sure, but I think this castle has some relation to the Von Trapp family… This fact alone almost had me sold before we even got there. It has the most beautiful views of the mountains and is just about a half hour from Innsbruck. They had a really cool cellar/crypt space where I could imagine the guys partaking in a few drinks. The layout of the rooms for the reception did not quite fit in with what we had envisioned, so we had to pass on this gem.

DSCN4770The next castle we toured was Schloss Mittersill and is fit for a queen! (Literally – royalty has stayed there!) I have raved about this place before, and it was high on my wedding choice list too. We were guided around the property and were shown their outdoor ceremony garden and their little chapel. They had a large room converted for a reception space. After our tour we had an excellent lunch and then got to spend some time at their spa. Such a treat!! Unfortunately, the space for an indoor ceremony (must have a rain plan!) and the party room for dancing and merriment were just too small for the guests we were planning to invite. I did think for a bit about inviting less people so we could fit in here!

We went to another castle that was just outside the fairytale town of Kitzbühel. Schloss Münchinau is located in down in the valley. It dates back to the 15th Century, though its series of conquerers over the years have forced it to be rebuilt a few times. This castle features a large outdoor garden area which would have made for an excellent ceremony cite. They have a nice restaurant and boast that their chef can make almost anything. The downside to this place was something that they were very proud of. We were told that this was a hunting castle. And therefore, there were little skulls and antlers everywhere. I wish I had taken a picture! But as “hunting” was not to be the theme of my wedding, we decided to look elsewhere.

CanonIMG_2023This brings us to the last castle and the one we ultimately chose – Festung Kufstein. So technically it is not a castle but a fortress, but who’s counting? We knew it would be an awesome place to host our wedding, as we had visited before and snuck peeks into the Kaiser Turm (King Tower) that they use for such events. This place has it all – awesome views of the valley below and surrounding mountains, a lovely garden with ceremony potential, plenty of space for all our friends, an awesome courtyard for cocktail hour, and endless places for guests to explore. We really loved the space for the after dinner party. There is great antique lounge furniture and plenty of space for Reini’s bands to perform!

We hope our guests will like what we have chosen! But I have no doubts that it will be a magical wedding!

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Here’s a photo from my first visit to the festung in 2013

Den Haag and Delft

fullsizeoutput_4f7Though not the Netherlands’ capital, the Hague (Den Haag) is the home to the Dutch royal family, the International Court of Justice, and the Netherlands’ national government. The Hague is really a short train ride from Rotterdam. But of course when we got there, the normal route was under construction. I had my heart set on still going, so we found our way there though it took a bit longer. To make things worse, it was a rainy morning. But those two factors meant we had the city to ourselves!

fullsizeoutput_4eaOur first attraction was the Binnenhof. It’s a big governmental complex set along a tranquil lake. It definitely does not look like the US Capitol building, but it’s absolutely impressive. I could imagine a king waving to his subjects below!

fullsizeoutput_4efWe continued our tour on to the Peace Palace (Vredespaleis) to see where the magic (… or peace) happens. We took a little audio tour in the visitors hall to learn a bit of the history. It was built with funds from Andrew Carnegie just as WWI was gearing up (peace would have to wait). But eventually the Palace would be the site of some popular international arbitrations and trials, such as for Slobodan Milošević.

fullsizeoutput_507The rain stopped after our lunch (two enormous open faced sandwiches at Cafe Blossom) and we headed back into town. We stopped at an open air market. While Reini stopped to listen to a singing pianist, I snuck off and bought a bouquet of flowers. They had the most beautiful assortment there. Unfortunately because we had to fly back to Innsbruck, I knew I’d only be able to take one bundle back with me (or I totally would have gotten the pink ranunculus too!!). Just for 5 euros, my bouquet of white hyacinth must have had 40 stems! That thing was much heavier than I had thought. Thankfully Reini helped me to carry it. 🙂 It did safely survive the flight and when I opened it in Innsbruck, it made 6 vases full.. The apartment smelled incredible!

fullsizeoutput_501Anyway, after my big purchase, we headed toward the fun little town of Delft, described as a smaller, more quaint Amsterdam. It definitely is a charming town. We must have hit it on a holiday because there were many costumed people. We never did find out what the holiday was, but I highly doubt that there are normally people dressed as caterpillars and butterflies… We climbed one of the church towers for expansive views. In need of a break, we sipped on a pair of coffees on the deck of a café over a canal.

Overall, our short trip to the Netherlands was really lovely. It’s a small country that you can get around relatively easily by train. We got to see plenty of beautiful flowers, though  I’m sure we would have seen even more had we waited until the middle of April to schedule our visit. I hope we’ll get to stop by again someday soon!

Amsterdam

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Centraal Station

Our second stop on our Netherlands tour was to Amsterdam. We took a train over from Rotterdam. First of all, the Amsterdam train station is very architecturally impressive and is in the Dutch Neo-Renaissance style (according to my guidebook). It was built on a series of artificial islands and has over 8,500 wooden piles for support underneath.

 

The first attraction of the day was to the Van Gogh museum. We got there early to beat some of the crowds (though it was still pretty busy, even at 9:30am). The museum is located in a district with a few other museums (the Rijksmuseum and Stedlijk). We chose the Van Gogh because of the man. We took the “multimedia tour” (with audio guide on an iPod touch-like device with interactive elements) and were fascinated with the stories of the artist’s life. And yes, there was a whole wall dedicated to the ear incident! Reini took note of a couple prints to consider buying for his office.

fullsizeoutput_4c1We stopped for lunch at a bagel sandwich place (mmmm) and then wandered about a bit through the canal lined streets. We strolled through the Bloemenmarkt (Flower Market), admiring their offerings, though I had plans to buy a bunch the next day. 🙂 In the afternoon we took a canal tour (because you just have to when you’re in Amsterdam). We found all the house boats docked in the canals to be really interesting. They’re real, fairly permanent houses that are totally floating. Funny story – one man refused to pay attention to all the canal cruise tourists that pass by his home. It was laundry day as evidenced by his line hanging all his clothes… and by the fact that he didn’t have any pants on. That’s Amsterdam for ya.

To get process the sights that we saw on the canal cruise (and to hide from a rain shower) we stopped at a cafe. Man oh man I wish I remembered the name of that place because I had the most incredible sticky toffee pudding and Reini loved his carrot cake. We sat happily out front, watching an older man try to parallel park along the canal. (Note, there seem to not be any guard rails or even stones of any sort to prevent cars from falling down into the water below). We stayed until a bit past dinner time so we could catch some of the evening sights. Then we hopped on the slowest train in the world back to Rotterdam.

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Springtime in Holland – Rotterdam

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While Reini was sick and recovering from his surgery, he was hoping to have a trip to look forward to. I searched around and found that flights from Innsbruck to the Netherlands are super cheap if you time it right. So we planned a long weekend trip for spring to see the beautiful blooming flowers and charming windmills.

IMG_0556We flew into Rotterdam, home of the largest port in Europe. After an easy bus ride from the Airport, we checked into our hotel and beelined to the Markthal for some lunch. We had some delicious Lebanese cuisine and then picked up some sweets to take with us to our next stop.

IMG_0558Reini was really interested in what this “largest port in Europe” claim was all about. We thought it was a bit strange at how far away from the actual ocean Rotterdam is located. So we took a harbor tour to see for ourselves. We cruised around on the top deck of a pretty big boat, enjoying the audio commentary. The port really does seem to be huge. There were tons of shipping containers hidden in every nook and cranny!

 

fullsizeoutput_4aeWe caught a sunny afternoon in Rotterdam and picked a bar on the harbor for some glasses of wine before dinnertime. The Netherlands was having their National Restaurant Week while we were there, so we had to participate for one evening! We went to a fancy Asian-French fusion place, Umami, where we had a 4 course meal featuring caviar, baby squid, and other interesting things 🙂

We really enjoyed Rotterdam. It’s a cool city with modern architecture. And we were a bit envious of their awesome network of bike paths. Innsbruck could learn something from Rotterdam!

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Starting 2017 strong

img_0484It’s been a while since I’ve written, but that’s only because I had a ton of stuff going on! January Reinhard had a surgery that put him in the hospital for a whole week. He definitely required extra attention with all that! I also finished all my Master’s classes in January. Now I’m just in the thesis writing portion of the program. In February I went home to work on wedding planning and festivities. And yes, I said ‘yes’ to the dress! February was also the month that I started an internship that will take me all the way through August, just before wedding activities take over!

But in with all that busyness, we have been able to have lots of fun. Once Reinhard got better enough to walk a bit, we’ve been going on loads of nature walks. I just had to keep reminding him that he should be more careful when walking on the snow and ice! Despite the ice, the scenery has been beautiful. But the snow is in the clearing stage now – so it’s more just brown slush.

This last week Kelchsau celebrated Mardi Gras. They call it Fasching. Austrians like to dress up in silly costumes, kind of like Americans do on Halloween. Every other year the village hosts a big parade with a few floats. Kathrin rode on one with some friends and dressed up as the manager of the village’s one restaurant. They acted out a little skit once they got to where the crowd was waiting for them. The parade participants didn’t throw out beaded necklaces but they did throw plenty of candy that sent the children running!

Here’s a little video of the village’s costumed marching band.