Monday, March 19, 2012

Hello my name is Baronese Taylor, hoch in das blaue Himmelsezelt emporsteigende Eroberin der Lüfte von Hofkirchen

So much time has passed already since my last post and I have a lot to catch-up on... As you may have noticed, I even have a new name! Roughly translated (for all my non-German speaking friends) I am Baroness Taylor, high in the blue canopy, ascending conquerer of the air from Hofkirchen.  But if you like, you can still call me Taylor for short ;-).

I picked up my "balloon name" on my latest adventure.  A hot air balloon ride over the hills of Eastern Styria!  In case I haven't bragged about this to you for the past 3 months, this was Chris' Christmas/Birthday present to me, and we couldn't have picked a more perfect weekend for it.  So here's how I spent days 81-79!  (YIKES! I'm already in the 70's!!)

Our day started at 6:30AM on Saturday morning.  Waking up that early on a Sat. is not something you'll catch me doing very often... unless it's Christmas or I'm going on a hot air balloon ride.  This was the view from our balcony.

7:00 AM- Balloon and basket arrive.  Time to help set up.  Lucky for me, the pilot thought only men were capable of helping out... so I took lots of pictures of the men doing their thing. 

Setting up the balloon wasn't easy after all.  The wind decided to change just as we got the balloon up in the air, and the men holding on to it to keep it stabilized had a really hard job.  Eventually, we got enough hot air in the balloon and as soon as the pilot gave us the word we all hopped in the basket (there were 10 passengers plus the pilot) and away we flew.
Here's video of the first few moments going up in the air... I only freak out a little bit.  I was also so nervous I didn't realize I was filming sideways part of the time... sorry you'll have to tilt your head! 

Some shots from the air:

That's our hotel from above

 ⇑The landing!
Time to pack up the 
balloon and head back again :-( 

After arriving back at the hotel saftely we had a nice breakfast followed by the traditional "christening ceremony."  I had no idea what to expect... The passengers had to take a knee, say a vow (I have no idea what I vowed because our pilot's Steierischer dialekt was so strong!), then we each had our go at getting baptized with fire!  Lucky for me, I wasn't the first one to go because I probably would have freaked out.  The pilot took a strand of our hair, burned about 3 inches (7.62 cm) off with a lighter and then dumped champagne over our head.  Afterwards we received our new names, a glass of champagne to drink and a certificate with our burnt hair inside.  I have Chris' christening on video :-) The picture on the right was with a fellow balloon passenger who happened to be wearing a Minneapolis T-shirt... (they even got hwy 169 right!!).  He didn't want to trade shirts so, naturally we had to have our picture taken together!

Later in the day:

We went exploring around the area.  Since it's still just mid-March everything was closed, and I mean everything! Despite having no luck with visiting famous sites, we went for a nice drive through the countryside.  I loved the tiny little roads (except when they made a sharp turn and you couldn't see if someone was coming around the corner from the other direction).  We found Scottish highlands cattle on a farm right next to the tiny little road.  


Later, we went to a nearby lake and rented a bike-car and pedaled around.  Everyone was out enjoying the beautiful Spring day.

Chris is unhappy because he thinks he's doing all the pedaling... not true!⇑
⇑I'm so happy I could dance

Even later in the day: We went to a Therma (thermal spa) and played on some wicked watersides.  After I almost had a heart-attack from what seemed like a near death experience sliding down a steep drop backwards in the dark (our 2 person tube got turned around in the wrong direction), I relaxed in the warm pools and called it a day.  It's hard to believe we could fit that much excitement into one day.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Sweet Life

Celebrating Chris' Birthday the other night, and getting a taste of his mom's homemade sacher-torte gave me the idea to write a little bit about all the savory sweetness you can find in Austria. I apologize in advance to all my friends observing Lent at the moment... you may want to read this post on or after Easter!
Chris' Birthday sacher-torte. One piece for him,
 the rest for me!

What is it? A chocolate lover's heaven. Traditionally it's a little bit on the dry side, however I've had my share of (dare I use the word?) moist and delicious sacher-torten (that is the plural form in German btw). Basically it's just a chocolate cake with a layer of hardened chocolate frosting covering it's entirety which makes it even more delicious and also holds the moisture in. That way if it's not eaten immediately, which rarely happens in this household, its moisture and deliciousness are preserved. The most important ingredient in a sacher-torte is the marmalade (pronounced mar-ma-lah-da in German) which is apricot jam. One layer is usually spread between the cake and the frosting and sometimes even a second between cake layers. Served with a side of schlagobers or just schlag (if you're an insider like me).
What's the occasion? Usually birthdays. While working in the kindergarten a couple years back, I got to eat sacher-torte with “Smarties” a.k.a. fake M & M's quite frequently (hence any weight gain during that time). The only other reason to eat sacher-torte is if I'm ever having a really bad day, or a really good day, or just an average day... I usually just stop by the neighboring bakery for a slice... shhh don't tell Chris!
Where's the best place to get it? Chris' mom makes the most lecker sacher-torte I've ever had, my previous host-mother is a close second. If you want an original “Sacher-torte” you'll have to swing by the Sacher Hotel and be willing to pay about €30-40 for an entire torte or about €6 a slice. My local bakery gives it to me for a more reasonable €2/slice and is just as good.

What is it? This is like a doughnut before it gets its hole punched out. Like a doughnut they are fried but its texture is even softer and fluffier than most American donuts I've had. The best part is the surprise in the middle... can you guess? Apricot jam. Are you noticing a trend here? Yes, Austrians love their apricots which grow here like crazy in the spring/summer. So as you can imagine these folks have gotten crafty with apricots and come up with some really good stuff.
What's the occasion? Bavarians and Austrian traditionally eat Krapfen like mad right before Lent. Good luck trying to snag one without pre-ordering on Karnival (Mardi Gras). I got lucky this year but only because I was up at 6:30am and headed to work... I think I got one of the last ones. Rumor has it that people observing Lent, at least the hardcore ones who actually fast for 40 days, eat them to fatten up. Apparently each one has about 200-300 calories. That's a good solid breakfast if you ask me. The good news for me is, most people are observing Lent because 75% of the population here is Catholic and a good portion of them swear off sweets. So this time of year means a Krapfen surplus. I've made it my duty to eat a Krapfen whenever I can... Hey, we can't let them go to waste!
Where's the best place to get it? I've never had a bad one and you can find them all over Austria or Germany.

What is it? Ice cream! I know, I know.... you know what ice cream is, I'm sure. Quite honestly, ice cream is good just about anywhere you eat it, not just in Austria. I know because it's something I have to test in every country I've ever visited. In fact, you could say I became quite the gelato/ice cream condesour when I was in Italy last spring.
What's the occasion? Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, any day that ends in the letter “y”.... In Austria it's perfectly acceptable to eat ice cream at any time of the day for any reason and even replace a meal with it. It's probably the only weird thing I can do in this country without getting strange looks or eye-rolls. The only down side to being an ice-cream addict is that your options are pretty limited during the winter months when all the Eis salons close. If you're a true Eis eating princess like me... you find a way!
Where's the best place to get it? If I am forced to rule out driving to Italy (it's only 4-5 hours!) and pick a place a little closer to home then I have to say my #1 favorite is Eis Peter which is only a 2 minute bike ride away! I also hold a special place in my heart for the Eis Salon Chris took me to on our first date. It's about a 15 minute bike ride away from where we live and is located next to a gorgeous park with a castle on an island (Laxenburg). It's magical and like an Austrian Disneyland and I'm sure that's why I fell in love. :-)

What is it? Gingerbread Cookies. I know what you're thinking... those dry crumbly old things we would have to eat when visiting great grandma? Not really. These are the only cookies I've seen done really well in my entire stay in Europe. I'm the kind of girl who grew up eating chewy, melt in your mouth cookies. I also ate great-grandma's gingersnaps which on some occasions nearly broke my teeth off. For anyone who's not really a fan of either... these cookies are for you. Sure in Austria you can get them in any supermarket... but the very best are ones made only in my Austrian “home-town,” Mödling (I'll explain more under “Where's the best place to get it?”).
What's the occasion? Special occasions, bad days, and heart-break. When I first moved out to Mödling the woman who lined up my job and housing gave me one of the famous lebkuchenhertzl (little gingerbread cookie heart with chocolate on top). She told me that when she was married she was so nervous that she couldn't eat anything. Right before she passed out she found a table filled with the lebkuchenhertzln and ate a couple. After that she said she could get married and didn't feel nervous anymore. She believed that these cookies have a special power and so do I. I've been through some rough times (heart-break, homesickness, flu, etc...) The only thing that has brought me back to life and got me to eat again was the lebkuchenhertzl.
Where's the best place to get it? The only place to get it in my opinion is at Lebzelterei Rachenzentner in Mödling. This family has been in business for over 5 generations...  Which convinces me even more there is a secret healing ingredient in these cookies and that they really know what they're doing. The cookies themselves are super expensive but completely worth it... I mean, common, they are magical! Also they've got quite a variety for every taste... but if you ask me the hertz is where it's at!
It doesn't get any more darling than this tiny little shop! 

This is just the beginning of all the great sweet stuff you can find in Austria. I chose to feature the ones that I love the most and eat on a regular basis ;-) Since reading this post has probably caused you to gain a few pounds/kilos, I promise to write soon about how I make up for eating all these calories! 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Bikes, Bakeries, and a Birthday

Birthday boy in Barcelona
#91: I have to play catch-up a little bit today.  But before I do that I want to point out that today is a very special day (even more than the other special days) because it's Chris' Birthday! So if you haven't done so already, you need to tell him how young and handsome he looks even though he's now closer to 40 than he is 30.  
Happy Birthday Chris!! xoxo

So back to Copenhagen... Here are some highlights from Saturday and Sunday's explorations with Margaux and Irena. 

Saturday we hopped back on the bikes  and headed towards Fredriksberg Park which has a castle and botanical gardens.  But first we stopped for mandatory coffee and danish sweets at a little bakery and enjoyed breakfast outside in the sun.

(left) I didn't give Margaux enough credit for her nifty navigation skills in my last post, so here's proof that she was a master with the map all weekend.  We really did end up where we were supposed to be most of the time... and even when we didn't it didn't matter because we always saw something worthwhile along the way.  
(right) Photo courtesy of Irena: This was just one of many birds (a heron according to Chris) which we could get up very close to in Fredriksberg park.  We had a relaxing stroll and sit in the sun before we had to head back to return our bikes.

Irena hanging out in the cafe connected to the bike shop.  I just thought this photo looked pretty :-) 

 Photo courtesy of Margaux: (left) This is Mikkel our guide for the day.  He's from the city on this sign and is a friend of Mgo's from high school. We had a really great time getting the inside scoop from a real Dane. He picked us up in his car (yes, they drive those too) and took us all over town.  We saw the Opera house (on the upper right) Amalienborg Palace (where the royal family lives) and stopped into Fredriks Church.  Then we headed towards the longest shopping street in Europe called Strøget (he was a brave man taking 3 shopping addicted women).  Luckily we were distracted by a folk dance being performed by some high schoolers (right).  Mikkel told us the name (something French?) but I can't for the life of me remember what it is.  

We were good little shopping addicts and didn't give in to all the temptation Copenhagen had to offer.  Mostly because we almost fainted when we saw the prices :-) 


 Sunday morning meant everyone's least favorite part of the trip... packing up and checking out of the hotel.  After that it was off to find breakfast... or lunch... or brunch? We found a beloved little breakfast/lunch restaurant called Granola which served delicious fresh juices, cupcakes and mini pancakes.  It didn't matter though, because once I saw they served chocolate/banana milkshakes nothing else in the world mattered to me.  

Sunday is a day of free museums (at least a few are free).  Since we had no money left anyway, this was great news for us!  So we stopped at the Museum of Copenhagen first which turned out to be a really great find.  They had an interactive exhibit which featured the effects of immigration in Copenhagen over the years as well as different view points of immigrants and the people who call Copenhagen home.  If you're not already in love with Copenhagen, this exhibit just might convince you.  Our next stop was the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek.  What the heck is that, you ask? (see photo on the left) It's a museum mostly made up of sculptures (lots of old people's heads), and ancient artwork... which is great fun and all, but I have to admit that after a weekend of sightseeing and baring just above freezing temperatures, it was nice to sit down and rest my feet in an artificial jungle.  The building itself is worth a visit.

The last picture is just to show you how great kids living in Copenhagen have it.  I'm sure if there weren't so much snow in Minnesota growing up, that my dad would have built a box on the front of his bike and carted me and my brother around too.  Who knows, it may not be too late for that... what do ya think dad?  

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Sunny Greetings from Copenhagen!

I know I promised to make my last 100 days in Europe special and I will hold myself to that promise.  In theory it'd be nice if I could blog about something everyday... but I still have to have time to do important stuff like my jobs, homework, and also enjoy my time with the people and places I love most in Europe before it's all over.  I still haven't figured out how to balance all of those things without the blog, so that's why I'm not going to be posting everyday.  Also, I was home sick with a cold from days 98-96 and who really wants to hear about that? Luckily that cold couldn't keep me down for long. So now... what you've all been waiting for... an adventure- finally!
Here I am in Copenhagen!

Days 96-93 are being celebrated in the great city of Copenhagen, Denmark with my partner in international crime, Margaux and another friend we know from Vienna named Irena.  Since my arrival in Copenhagen, I've been whisked under the efficient arms of this funky little city.  I haven't wasted a second here because it's so user friendly.  The pace here is fast but not rushed, it's built for tourists of all kinds but still doesn't sell out it's local and home-grown charm.  

Since it's late and I'm a little tipsy off of a couple (or several) mojitos I've decided to post some pictures of today's highlights.  (This is also for those of my illiterate friends who will not be named). 

Starting the day off right at a cute little cafe called The Living Room.   Organic everything, a great place to people watch, smoke free, free wifi and just around the corner from our hotel.  Doesn't get much better! 
Not a bad way to drink your morning beer, get your vitamin D and maybe a date for Saturday night.  This just goes to show you how efficient Danes can be.  
Copenhagen is the most biker friendly city in the world... So  why wouldn't we rent some bikes and break a bunch of laws?  Hey at least we got to see more of the city. 
Taking in some sunshine at Nyhavn.  Not a cloud in the sky today! Irena (left) Margaux (right) 
Turns out you don't have to go to Disneyworld to see the real Little Mermaid... she's right here in Copenhagen! 
Irena did a great job playing tour guide. Margaux's method is just to "follow her heart"... which hasn't always got us to where we need to be.  Either way, we had a good time :-) 
We visited the free state of Christiania.  For those of you who have heard of this...(In the famous words of Margaux H.) this was a purely anthropological experience and no experimentation was involved! Cameras are NOT allowed past this sign (something they aren't kidding around about). For those who have never heard of Christiania- think a Disneyworld for hippies and pot heads.   
That's all for today, friends!