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 glühwein 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 Óbidos 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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Porto = Paradise

Porto is a port city that ships port wine. 🙂 I think the story is that Porto really gained its international prominence in the 1700s when England was at war with France. England couldn’t get wine so easily from France so it had to look elsewhere. English people developed a taste for the sweet port wine (as did we) that came from the Douro valley region of Portugal. Porto is at the end of the Douro river, on the Atlantic coast – a perfect location to get the wine to England. So a bunch of English firms established their homes in Porto to ship out the sweet stuff. Even today in Porto, you’ll see a bunch of “wine lodges” with English names.

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We had a great time wandering through Porto – I think it was even my favorite city! As we took the metro in from our hotel and strolled through the downtown area, we ran into a photoshoot just outside the Camâra Municipal do Porto at the Avenida dos Aliados. The model was lifted on a metal ring into the air by a big crane.

We wandered through the city, past buildings covered in beautiful blue and white tiles, making our way down to the bustling riverfront spot. We took a beer and sangria break (don’t worry, we did have some delicious Portuguese wine with our dinner) at a tavern on the Ribeira Pier and watched as people and boats rolled by. Then we walked across the Ponte Dom Luis I bridge. At the end, some teenage boys were putting on a show for the tourists, saying they’d jump down into the water below for 5 Euros. I don’t know if they got any money, but they still seemed to have a fun time making splashes.

dscn5511One of the coolest things to do in Porto is to take a tour of one of the big wine lodges. We were disappointed to find out that tours end at 6 pm, but we headed out early the next morning to get in a tour before leaving for our next destination. We signed ourselves up for the 11 am English tour at the Croft wine lodge. The first part of the tour involved tasting a few of their special wines. So maybe drinking fancy wine before noon is not normal, but hey! When in Rome (or Porto), right?! dscn5508Because it was so early, it ended up being a private tour for just Reini and me. We learned a bit about the process of making port and got to see the swimming pool sized barrels that it’s stored in. The tour concluded with some more glasses of wine. And of course, we bought a bottle of our favorite port to take with us. We definitely should have bought more, but we were flying back and suitcases can only contain so much wine… 🙂

Beach towns and proposals

While at the beach, I discovered the true reason for Reini’s desire to be there… He was planning on proposing!! Somehow he snuck an engagement ring in his luggage without me figuring out he was up to something. We had a hotel spot right on a beautiful beach (Praia das Maçãs) and we were really enjoying walking around and lounging. But that night, Reini said we just HAD to go to a place he found in his guide book at sunset – Cabo da Roca. I’m not going to tell all the personal details, but Cabo da Roca is the westernmost point in continental Europe. Reini said this was the closest spot to home for me 🙂 The point has a fun red and white lighthouse high on a cliff and the spot is also marked with very large cross. It’s a really cool place and great for a romantic sunset proposal!

All the beaches in the region were really lovely. Praia das Maçãs was rather empty, so we were able to get prime spots on the sand. We did some reading and some splashing in the (cold) waves. There are also some cool cliffs that you can walk up. We didn’t get as close to the edges as the fishermen with their really long poles, though. But it made for some beautiful scenery.

As we headed north, we made a stop at another nice beach town – Nazaré. According to legend, it used to be a sleepy fishing village. It’s now a beach vacation spot for Portugal’s families. One of my favorite things were the beach cabanas!! Set up on the beach were at least a hundred little rustic beach cabanas that Portuguese grandmas rented out to the tourists for the day. For less than $7, this fair skinned girl couldn’t refuse! We really enjoyed this beach, but it was a bit more crowded and the waves were pretty big. In fact, the biggest wave ever surfed was in Nazaré. Needless to say, we did our wading close to the lifeguard stand… But the water was so clear and clean that we had to go in at least a bit.

Our favorite spot just outside of the town was called Sítio. It’s a short funicular ride (or in our case, a steep hike…) up to the top of the cliffs overlooking Nazaré and beaches below.

 

Neighboring castles

Once we had our fill of Lisbon, Reini picked up a rental car and we headed west to the Sintra area to tour some castles. This particular region was ripe for beautiful castles, most with views out to the ocean. After a brief stop for lunch (we ate at a restaurant that served Italian and Indian food – go figure), we landed at the Palacio da Regaleira. Its owner, nicknamed Monteiro the Millionaire, made his fortunes in Brazil and then moved back to Portugal around 1900 to live the high life! And man! He must have really enjoyed this place! The palace, incredible alone, is enhanced with gardens containing so many interesting things. There were secret grottos where you’re sure Ariel and her mermaid sisters would pop out of. There were magical wishing wells, watch towers, and gardens galore.

We were spending a couple of days at the beach (just maybe 20 minutes away) and the next morning the weather was pretty gray and a bit chilly. So… we decided to visit another castle! Regaleira was on Reini’s list but Palacio da Pena was on mine! We could see it glowing is orangey hue from the Regaleira palace and thought it would be worth the short drive. I love Disney a lot, but I was amazed that I was in a totally real fairytale princess castle. This castle was built in the 1840s and 50s by King Ferdinand and his German architect. The building is incredible and very bright, even in the gray sky. During the inside tour, Reini questioned the king’s need for so many ‘sitting rooms’ but I really enjoyed the richly adorned interiors. Once the place started to get crowded (we were very happy we got there early), we ventured into the park. Because Reinhard is Austrian, we had to hike to the highest point. Though the climb was longer than we thought, the sun greeted us just as we got to the top.

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There are a few more castles in the area like the Moorish Castle and the National Palace of Sintra, but we didn’t have time for it all. I was happy, though, that I got a little time to pretend like I was a Disney princess 🙂