A quick reminder:
You can click on any photo to view it larger.
27 December 2014-
It's too early in the morning but it's time to get up and walk over to the terminal and check in.
EVERY TIME we've checked in at the Munich airport we've been met with rude customer service and too many grumpy (and even down right ANGRY) folks.
Just wanted to warn you....we're hoping for the best but we're also not holding our breath.
Weeeeeellllll.....what do you know??? I guess even the Munich airport can change!?!?! Check in was easssssy peassssy. No trouble. (what caused HUGE problems last time was that the check-in person would NOT believe us when we showed him our Chinese resident visas even though we explained that was the document that allowed us to enter China. Sigh. This time the lady manning the front counter was easy going and believed us. Don't you think we should have it figured out by now? We've only lived in China for three years and we've traveled in many countries. Whatever.) Even security wasn't bad. We even have time for a bite of breakfast and a coffee before boarding our flight to Amsterdam.
Our flight was soooo smooth. We sat at the VERY BACK of the plane but the flight attendants were just awesome (KLM). Know worries needing to run to the next flight as we've got about ten hours to kill in Amsterdam. What should we do?????
Well, first we need to stash our carry-on luggage at one of the "convenient" lockers (more on why I wrote that in quotes later):
We got out of the main terminal and proceeded to the information desk in the airport. Apparently the "winter storm" is causing havoc on the public transportation system and the trains are running about one hour late. We've been told that it's best to take a bus or maybe taxi to get into the city. My goal for this day in Amsterdam?? Go see the Van Gogh Museum!
I think we're going to try finding the right bus that will take us close to our destination but ...first...check out this food stall located just outside the airport:
After munching on some sweet goodies we were walking around trying to find the correct bus when we happened upon the taxi stand. Can you imagine our surprise when we discovered that the first taxi in line was a Tesla (an all electric car)??? Well...Mark INSTANTLY switching his thoughts from a taxi being too expensive to WE MUST TAKE THIS TAXI.
Well...you have to admit, by taking a taxi we cut our transit time in half and now we're at the Van Gogh Museum (which just opened for the day). There isn't even a line to get in! And my oh my...what's wrong with my Girls????Love the buildings in Amsterdam:
We LOVED this museum! So many beautiful pieces of van Gogh's artwork on display and lots of interesting history about his life. Makes him come to life! I'm now inspired to try painting something in his style.
Time to head back to the airport. If the weather was more cooperative we could have spent hours wandering Amsterdam but as it is we'd feel better back in the airport. Check out the long line to get into the museum now!:Here's the cafe we ate lunch at:
All righty...this is where things get a wee bit complicated. Remember our carry on luggage we so carefully stowed away? Well, that luggage is located in one terminal but our tickets will allow us access ONLY to the terminal we're flying out of which is NOT the same terminal as our carry on luggage. Crap! So....long story short, after talking to several security guards (showing them proof of our locker rental purchase) we were allowed to enter the terminal that our luggage was stowed in. Jeesh. That was waaaaaaaay harder than it needed it to be! Surely we're not the only ones that this has happened to, right???!?
We're back home now...thank you for joining us on our brief adventures through Paris, Munich, Austria and Amsterdam! We hope you all had a fantastic Christmas holidays and we wish you a Happy New Year!
26 December 2014-
Wave good bye to Opa!!!
First stop? We need to get another vignette for our car (it's a sticker you place on your car that shows you've paid your tolls and it allows you to drive in Austria). We just need it for today. Yep...seems crazy but our time limit is up (I think the one we have is good for ten days and this is the eleventh day). While we could perhaps get away with not buying one I *really* don't want to take a chance on our last few hours in Austria.
Last look at the factory Opa used to work at. I *always* wanted to go inside and check it out but for reasons unknown to me we never did. Bummer.
AAAAAAAAAAck! Nothing is open today!!!! I was hoping to buy some last minute chocolates, candies, and Manner schnitten but all the shops ARE CLOSED. OH NO! We had to drive a bit before we found a place selling vignettes. Whew. At least a gas station was open!
(do you think the Dwarves dwell there? I'm referring the Dwarves from "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.)
Check out the name of a town on this sign:
The town is called Rottenmann. I CAN. NOT. STOP. GIGGLING! Every time I see or hear that name I think "rotten man" and I hear (inside my loopy head)...Billy Joel's "Piano Man" but with the words rotten man replacing piano man. Yep. Every. Single. Time. (and we passed by this sign many, many times on this trip to Austria!)
We've made it Munich. The drive in Germany was easy peasy. Roads were clear and there was only a hint of snow on the ground. I'm so glad we weren't driving TO Austria on that particular day as that direction was backed up for MILES and MILES and MILES (ahem...I mean to say kilometers!!). Tonight we're staying at a hotel located RIGHT AT the airport. We don't want to mess around with getting to the terminal early in the morning. We're so grateful that the hotel really is *right* at the airport. (we've noticed over and over again that sometimes airport hotels claim to be at the airport are actually quite far from the airports....that isn't the case with this one.)
Mark dropped us off at the hotel while he returns the gigantic van back to the rental car place. Woo hoo! Check in at the hotel was easy and Mark is back from dropping the car off. And....we just looked outside our hotel room window to see a Christmas market. Let's go have a look at what is likely to be our last Christmas market!
Smokey Joe BBQ??? mmmmmmm.....
Group of singers from the USA...gospel music, I think? It was fun and LOUD (too loud) to listen to:
Just inside the airport there are lots of shops and restaurants....what's for dinner for us? SUSHI?? Why yes! After two weeks of eating heavy meals it's time for Japanese food. See that Edeka behind the girls? That's a German grocery store...and where I managed to buy a few of the chocolates and Manner schnitten.
The girls, using the Euros their Opa, Oma and Tante Kirstin gave them, bought lavender pillows. I absolutely love the smell of these pillows!!!! Lavender! Such a lovely smell.
Back in the hotel...here's the ENORMOUS Christmas tree in the hotel's foyer. Big enough for you? It's several at least one...maybe two stories tall!
Good night everyone! It's so hard and painfully sad to realize that our European Vacation has come to an end. Tomorrow morning we're flying to Amsterdam and then back to Beijing for us!
26 December 2014-
We packed our bags last night. Any idea how hard it is to cram all of those goodies into a few suitcases? We even borrowed a suitcase from Opa as it was going to be a struggle to get everything into the suitcases and duffle bags we'd brought with us (it could have worked but we would have been charged an overweight bag fee...and why do that when we're allowed two bags each? We only had three bags total. We can easily take another one...or FOUR more suitcases!!!!) The bows and arrows are also stashed inside one of the bags. We'll see if they make it back to China (spoiler alert: they did!).
One last look around the girls' pretty room at this very pretty bed and breakfast in Turnau, Austria:
Looks like snow might be coming! We've checked out of the B&B and we gave the owners a sampling of nice green teas and pu'er cha (tea) that we carefully hand selected and sampled at the tea market in Tianjin. I'm not sure if they'll like it but those teas will go nicely with the huge collection of teas they already have (on display in their breakfast nook area).
Yes, it's now snowing! OF COURSE it snows on THE DAY that we have to DRIVE ACROSS Austria (need to make it to Munich tonight so that we can catch our early morning flight tomorrow). Isn't it gorgeous though?
I know this view, this photo, may not mean much to you but every time we're driving and I get a glimpse of the dark houses with the green trim there is a sense of anticipation and build up. It's always exciting because it means I'm getting close to seeing my Opa!
One thing Opa really wanted to do while we were visiting him this time is to crack walnuts. I'm not sure if there is any meaning behind this activity and I can't say I remember doing it as a child (we always had nuts at Christmas time ...but I don't remember ever cracking them as a family). Let's crack some walnuts! Get cracking!!!! (yes, they're GOOD)
Oh, and try not to pinch your fingers in the process!
Mama asked if I would show Opa how to do certain things on his new laptop. OH. MY. GOODNESS.
Opa, I'm so very, very sorry but your operating system (OS) is the most difficult one I've ever tried to use! Es tut mir sehr leid! I thought those darn interfaces were supposed to become MORE user friendly...not less so. What the heck??? I nearly felt like chucking his laptop out the window. Thankfully I restrained myself from doing so.
Can I just say, I am VERY impressed at all the things Opa can do on his computer. He understands how to navigate his way around (even though I couldn't make heads or tails of it!). His only issue is that he has such poor vision. All the icons and texts are in such a tiny font that he has to use a magnifying glass to read them. I know that if this were a MacBook we could help change those settings for him but we didn't have a clue where to even begin to change those settings for him. Kudos to Opa for figuring out his laptop and writing emails!!!!
Peek outside Opa's window. This view has changed over the years....I remember there being a giant billboard on the road next to the covered bench. The snow...the snow. Wow! The snow is REALLY coming down now!
Darn it. Darn it! Drat! I hate this....I truly do....
But it's time to say good bye to Opa. The time was too short (it always is) and we need to leave. I predict a very slow, cumbersome drive to Munich if we have this sort of snow the entire way there.
Opa, we love YOU SO MUCH! Opa wir lieben Dich sehr viel! Wir wünschen das wir länger bleiben könnten. Leider müssen wir zurück nach China gehen.
To a very creeping, s-l-o-o-o-o-w start. In the time we stopped in at Opa's place enough snow had fallen which made getting out of Opa's driveway difficult. Yikes! I hope the rest of the drive goes better but the snow is coming down. (it's covering the Earth like a gigantic white blanket).
You'll have to stay tuned to hear how the rest of the drive went! ;-)
Christmas Day: 25 December 2014
We're heading into the "big city of Veitsch" (HA! Very funny...this is a small town) where we'll eat our Christmas lunch (main meal for the day) at a restaurant. Check out this row of colorful houses:
After the big, heavy meal we hopped back into our gigantic van but instead of driving back to Opa's place we zipped up to a place called Brunalm (up in the mountains). Normally this place would be LOADED with snow and tons of skiers but as you can see there is very little snow.
December 24, 2014-
Just to freshen up your European holiday customs knowledge but I think it might be safe to generalize that Europeans celebrate Christmas on the 24th- Christmas Eve. (contrary- most Americans celebrate Christmas on the 25th). Since we're in Austria we're celebrating the mostly traditional way. Ah, perhaps I should add a side note here: in Austria the fully decorate Christmas tree is also a gift from the Christkindl (literally translated: Christ Child) and the tree is seen for the first time on Christmas Eve. However, to keep things sane for us and Opa we opted to do the American tradition when it comes to the tree: we decorated the tree as a family. Having grown up with both traditions I can honestly and truthfully say that I prefer the latter (decorating as a family).
Opa has a neighbor that comes and helps him clean and she also runs small errands for him...and she picked up a small REAL LIVE tree for us - along with a few ornaments- to decorate. Thank you Frau Eckhardt!
A most pleasant breakfast. When we first booked the rooms here we were told that since we were the only guests staying that the main eating room would be closed (which makes sense to limit heating costs) but it turns out other people decided to stay here over the Christmas holidays so the main eating area is open. Hooray!
Off to Opa's house we go! It goes (without saying, I hope) that we're celebrating Christmas ...or Weihnachten ...with Opa.
While Oma and Tante Kirstin were visiting this past fall they pre-arranged a few things for us. Oma ordered a few arts and crafts kits to keep the girls busy. I can verify that they were fun to make. (*ahem* Naturally I HAD to try the crafts too...right???!? I got to make a whole bunch of stinkin' cute owls).
Oh my. I just realized from this photo that we had a very *green* Christmas. LOL! The girls have been talking about making bows but Opa KNOWS how to make a bow out of wood that really works. He's nearly 92 years young and he many a things to teach us! Usually Opa uses hazel wood to make the bows but today he used something that was easier for him to get (not sure what it was..maybe elderberry?). He quickly made two bows for two very eager girls....
While the lot of them were out and about with the bows and arrows acquisition project I was busy getting the Christmas Eve meal ready. And here it is!(why, oh why didn't I use the Gmundner Keramik? Oh well.)
How about now??? (I think she's flapping those hands hard enough- she might take off and fly!!!!)
Treats! Punschkrapfen from the bakery in Turnau. I need to learn how make these as I think the girls like to eat them (or at least Annika likes them):Now...if I could sing I would sing lots of Christmas carols right now. In German or English. However, I cannot sing and I don't want to permanently damage my family's ears by my singing so I will not sing. Okay? Ok. Let's listen to Austrian music instead!
Opa checking out our tree:
It's hard to believe Christmas has come and gone. It was such a beautiful and (nearly) perfect day. The best part was getting to spend time with Opa....and the girls have a deeper appreciation of what he can do and how very clever he is. :-) (I knew that!!!)
Huge THANK YOU to Oma, Tante Kirstin, Uropa, and Frau Eckhardt!!!!
Wow & Seckau rhyme. Or, at least in my head they do. Perhaps we should have a third party verify this and give the title of this post a stamp of approval.
December 23, 2014 -
Today is going to be an AWESOME day! I'm so excited I can hardly stand it! Why??? It's because we're going to visit a family that used to live in China and they moved back home ...to Seckau, Austria. We're going to see Petra, Willi, Toby and Katrina! Yahooooooo!!!!!!
While I love living in China there is a some what unique bond that forms between the expat friends. I know I'm not a huge extrovert (I'm actually quite the opposite) but friendship is a crucial part of having a successful life as an expat. I'd be NOWHERE without all my friends (Chinese or other expats). So, it's really nice to get to see my friends outside of China (like Angela in Pittsburgh and Debbie in South Africa).
But first, we need to start with a good breakfast:
It was a quick drive down here (Opa came along for the day as well...he's never been here before!). And ...again...I'm lousy when it comes to remembering to take photos! We arrived at Petra's house in the morning. They have a lovely house in such a gorgeous area. You'll just have to take my word for it! It's also very...GREEN! Unexpected for this time of year. After some hellos and school friends becoming reacquainted we were off in search of a place that was open for lunch (which happened to be at a small ski resort which was *actually running through some miracle*). Mark just had to show everyone his lunch (is that what I think it is? Bacon wrapped hot dogs??? Eep! Heart attack on a plate!):
After lunch we drove on a bumpy, narrow, winding road that lead up to a small lake. Apparently it's pretty unusual that we can drive up to it this time of year as it's usually blocked with loads of snow. Not today!
Kids...and some ...ummmm..Big Kids...playing in the snow and ice along the edge of the small lake:
After the adventure to the lake we had to check out the Seckau Abbey (which is *very* close to where Petra lives). Both Toby and Katrina go to school here and this was also the location of Petra and Willi's formal Austrian wedding (I drooled over their photos).
The church inside is...beautiful and COLD. I just wasn't expecting it to be cold but of course these places weren't built with heaters! Petra attends church mass here...oy! How do you not freeze? The church was very beautiful ....and I always feel guilty about taking photos inside a church so I end up taking very few photos. Katrina lighting a candle:
After the abbey we made a quick stop at the "gluehweinstandl" (hot mulled wine stand) for a quick drink. Ahhhhh.....I do love gluehwein (especially the smell of the spices used to make it). So pleasant! And after that we drove back to Petra and Willi's house. We chatted for hours- asking Willi and Petra about their jobs and how life has changed since they've been back. Petra made the yummiest toast.
And now it's time to leave. WAaaaaaah! This is the part I really hate! Thank you Petra, Willi, Toby, and Katrina for hosting us for the day! We loved seeing you. <3
What's that white stuff on the ground????
We've had a lovely breakfast and now it's time to head over to Opa's house. Shall we go???
Opa spoke to his sister's family that in live in the Ennstal region (it's the valley that the river called the Enns runs through) and asked them when would be a good time for us to pop down for a visit. Well, as it turns out TODAY is a good day to visit them. They also suggested we stay for the night- otherwise the visit would be too short. Our visits there are always too short....I'd love to stay there for so much longer ....but I'm thankful and grateful for any amount of time I get to spend with Opa's wonderful family. I really do love them!
Well...so, what does that mean? It means we have to head back over the Pretal Saddle (over the hill) and pick up our overnight gear (i.e. toothbrushes and toothpaste!). Now we're all set!
First stop: Werner & Roswitha's! I do love their home. It's so easy to relax and enjoy yourself. Plus, Opa's friend was here for a visit. Extra bonus!!!! (he really cracks me up)
Time to say good bye!!!! It's always hard to say good bye. It's so sad we can only come for a few hours but at least it's better than no hours.
Heading to Matzling to see Opa's sister (Tante Hedwig). Absolutely gorgeous!
Over the hills and through the woods...to Opa's house we go! Time to saddle up, dump the luggage in the van, and drive to Veitsch. "Where?", you say??? Well, it's a *tiny* little town in Steiermark...somewhere between Vienna, Graz, and Mariazell.
Are you familiar with Manner Schnitten??? The original ones are my absolute favorite. On a side note: they now make Manner yogurt. Of course I had to try it. (verdict?? Hmm....did NOT taste like the wafer cookies. Rats!)
GREEN!!!!!!!! I can't remember a winter here where I've seen this much green. This area is usually loaded with snow....these hills and mountains are loaded with ski resorts and ski slopes. What a strange winter!
After stopping in to see Opa and chat we all loaded back up into the van and drove over to Turnau to check into our accomodations. Check out the sky ...with a setting sun. Absolutely stunning!
Let's see...we dropped off Opa back at his home and we went shopping at Spar for groceries (as the following day was Sunday and restaurants and stores might not be open). We ended our evening getting dinner in Mitterdorf (close to the Spar).
Good morning! Shall we go downstairs and get breakfast? This place has such lovely breakfast treats....rolls, sliced meats, sliced cheeses...among just a few of the many things to eat.
Off to Opa's house we go....
After a few hours of driving in southern Germany we crossed into Austria. (not before stopping to pick up the necessary vignette, a sticker that shows we've paid tolls in order to drive in Austria, and a few bars of European chocolate. ;-) wink, wink
We're making a beeline for our hotel: Hotel Bristol.