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.

 

Holiday traditions

I’m in Austria for another Christmas season. They certainly do have lots of interesting traditions. The Krampus is one that I don’t know if I’ll every really understand, but nonetheless, the village of Kelchsau embraces the beasts. Santa comes a bit earlier to the Austrian children than he does to the American children. And the children that he doesn’t bless get snatched up by the krampuses. Reinhard and a few other musicians welcomed in Santa’s horse driven sleigh with flugelhorns, trumpets, and baritones. Santa read a story from his sleigh to the families as the adults drank glĂĽhwein and ate bröderkrapfen. Because Santa was so appreciative of Reinhard’s cheerful flugelhorn playing, he rewarded Reini with some presents of his own!

img_0382Of course, I’m celebrating Christmas in my own way too. Austrians do the ultra traditional Christmas tree only up on Christmas Eve thing – but not me! I had mine up the day after Thanksgiving. And we did do Thanksgiving again this year. I didn’t have as many left overs last year as I had hoped, so I made 2 turkeys! That was a bit much, but it was a bunch of fun. We enjoyed the evening with a few bottles of wine and telling stories about different holiday traditions.

Girls weekend in Copenhagen

In the spirit of the looming Thanksgiving holiday, I want to tell you that I am so thankful I’ve found such great friends here in Austria. My Masters program attracts people from all over Europe so now I have girlfriends from Sweden, Finland, Germany, and even one from South Africa. So while some of my friends are doing an abroad semester in Sweden, we meet up sort of half way in Denmark! Cool, right?!

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fullsizeoutput_2d4So last weekend me and two Austrian girls flew up to Copenhagen to meet up with our northernly stationed buds and rented an Airbnb in the center of the city. The first night we just enjoyed each other’s company and hung out in the apartment, cooking dinner together and telling stories over a couple bottles of wine. The next day we set out to explore the city. A few of us went on a little boat tour starting in the picture perfect Nyhavn harbor. We sailed through cozy canals and more open water. We got to see the back of the famous Little Mermaid statue among other beautiful spots.

fullsizeoutput_2d2Following our boat tour, we met up with the rest of the girls to get some lunch. We headed to the Copenhagen Street Food warehouse. You can check it out here if you’re interested. This super cool place is filled with a unique assortment of vendors. It was the hot spot to be (really crowded inside, probably because it was super cold outside). So after scarfing our shawarma, sweet potato fries, Korean BBQ tacos, and pancakes, we went outside to enjoy the sunshine. We found some lounge chairs and put them down right by the waterway. We soaked in some precious vitamin D as we watched the crazy kayakers paddle through the nearly freezing water.

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img_0325After lunch, we visited a palace, of course. We just had to stop by the residence of the royal family, the Amalienborg Palace. Then we did some (window) shopping in their excellent shopping district before heading back to the apartment to catch some quick naps and showers before dinner time. We were lucky enough to snag a dinner reservation at the Fiskebar in the Meatpacking District. We pigged out on their delicious and unique offerings. The district was super cool. I wish we had enough time (and money) to go back for a second meal. But we ended up heading back closer to our apartment and spent the rest of the evening at a cozy pub that had a mermaid as its logo.

Our last day was short for me and the girls that had to fly back to Munich, but we did get to stop by Café G for some coffee and chai tea lattes. We had a really great weekend in Copenhagen, though we all wished we could have stayed longer!

Almabtrieb

Autumn in the Alps would simply be amiss if it did not include an Almabtrieb – or as I like to call it, the cow parade! Farming is a very important piece of culture for Tyroleans, so naturally they love to put on a big show when it comes to their precious cows. I’ve written before about the trek the cows make, but I’ve never gotten to witness the big day firsthand. During late spring we (me too!) walked the Fohringer cows through the village and up into the mountains where they would be spending their summer at the family Alm. There they get to meet up with some other cow families, graze outside all day long, and enjoy the cool mountain breezes. But during the fall season, the cow ladies must make the journey back to their home farms. The farmers make this ‘homecoming’ into a huge celebration. The cows get huge floral headdresses and wear signature bells. They proudly march through the village. If you happen to know one of the farmers, they’ll offer you some schnapps that they keep with them! After the farmers drop off their cows in the farms, they come back and enjoy the village party!

Portuguese Potpourri

We explored a bunch of different places during our Portugal trip. We were always on the move! Here are some short stories of the smaller locations that we visited.

img_1684We decided, of course, that we wanted to do another wine tour. We had such a great time in Porto that we wanted to continue along the Douro River valley region to find another winery. We stayed in a nice bed and breakfast walking distance from the Quinta da Pacheca winery. It was immediately before harvest time, so all the vines were totally lush with dark purple grapes. The tour started with showing us their grape squishing facilities. img_1685They do it the old-fashioned way with people standing in small pools, squishing with their feet! Unfortunately, we missed the great squishing weekend by just one week. The tour took us through some of their storage rooms – they were decorating their biggest room for a wedding reception that evening. 🙂 And of course, the tour ended with some wine tastings. All were delicious, especially the 30 year old Tawny Port. Yum!

On one of our travel days, we passed by the town of Ă“bidos and I made Reini stop for lunch. It’s a really cool medieval, hilltop, walled city – first built by the Romans and added to by the Moors. Its streets snake around like a maze. Tourists (me included, of course) love it for all the tiny shops offering special Ginja cherry liquor ripe from the region, served in little dark chocolate shot glasses. We walked along the walls a bit until we could spot a place that looked good for lunch. I don’t think we’d be able to find it again: it was a very hidden place, but cool. We sat in their courtyard that happened to be shared by a bunch of Portuguese grandmas hanging their laundry above us.


Another one of our afternoon trips was to the college town of Coimbra. It’s the home to Portugal’s most prestigious universities. We caught it on a very special day: the first day of classes! The university seemed really cool. There were a bunch of groups that are their equivalent of sororities/fraternities, trying to recruit the new students to join them. Below is a video of one of the singing sorority-esque groups. They had flags with symbols and such. Something very unique that they do that I don’t think would work elsewhere: dress way up. They have uniforms for school (at least for special days). They look like outfits from Harry Potter – long black robes included. But the town itself was nice to tour. They have a very special library from the 1700s – the Biblioteca Joanina. The books inside, however, are off-limits, even to students. Reini and I had to climb the bell tower to have a view of the whole city. On our way out of town, we made one last stop to the science museum. They even included a guided tour through the university’s zoology building, complete with a giant blue whale skeleton.

img_0292We wanted to spend a little time out in nature. We both love to do a little kayaking (our absolute favorite experience was kayaking with manatees outside Cocoa Beach). We were a part of a big group during this trip, which was pretty bad. But once we were able to paddle away from all the people, we enjoyed floating along the river and trying to spot some wildlife.

img_1726Our very last activity of the trip before flying back was to go to the Oceanarium in Lisbon. I think it’s supposed to be the largest aquarium in Europe, and we weren’t disappointed. They had everything you’d hope for: penguins, otters, sharks (not all in the same tank, of course). That afternoon we took a stroll on the river walk until we were able to have some dinner (sushi for Reini and tapas for me).

So this concludes my posts about our Portugal trip. Overall, we really did enjoy the country. They have beautiful beaches, unique cultural moments, and great weather!

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