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Why yes, that man in the woods wore a Tyrolean!

17 Feb

Wikipedia notes that a Tyrolean hat is:

a type of fedora hat named for the Tyrol in the Alps. It is essentially the shape known as the trilby. Tyrolean hats are made of felt, traditionally having a corded hatband and a feather on the side as trim.

And why does this matter, you ask?  Well, it’s one thing to see a fedora on a nice Shriner back in the US who is telling you about the good work they do for a children’s hospital, and quite another to see one on a man who appears suddenly from a cozy-looking cottage in the middle of the woods, in a snow-blanketed landscape, speaking German with you and insisting that he take your picture.  You blink a few times and wonder if it’s real.

Last weekend, on a quick trip to see Vienna, Austria, we took a train to the Alpen town of Semmering, south-west of Vienna, to cross-country ski for a day.  Our morning had already had a few adrenaline-induced charges (the train station platforms were not terribly self-explanatory, and we had to do some searching before finding an outfit to rent cross-country gear), but finally we were set up in traditional skis (no skate skis available) and took off on the trail.  Few people were out, and after a few kilometers, we came across a log cabin, with a fire and all of the window shutters wide open.  We stopped, had a drink of water, and pulled out the camera.  To our surprise, a friendly Austrian man in his Tyrolean (or Alpen) hat came out to chat with us (in German) and insist on taking our pictures.  I was so focused on remembering German that I forgot to take a picture of him – he must have skied to his place, as there really was no other access.  He told us he owned one side of the property that was split by the cross-country ski trail, and it appeared that he spent a lot of time greeting people who ski up past his place.  It was definitely a highlight for us.

Our new friend in the Tyrolean hat insisted on taking pictures of us - I just wish I had taken a picture of him!

Our new friend in the Tyrolean hat insisted on taking pictures of us – I just wish I had taken a picture of him!

Cozy does not begin to describe this little abode!

Cozy does not begin to describe this little abode!

After approximately 130 turns where we would decide if we should keep going up the never-ending hill, we finally gave in and turned around.

After approximately 130 turns where we would decide if we should keep going up the never-ending hill, we finally gave in and turned around.

We spent most of the afternoon out skiing, primarily discussing our interpretation of the “trail” information and whether or not the trail was an out and back or a loop.  After a never-ending uphill slog, we decided that the trail must have been an out and back, and turned around to ski downhill.  For me, I practiced snow plow until my legs were jelly – Justin swooped along like he had never stopped downhill skiing years ago.  Back in Semmering, we had a very long lunch that would make our Spanish friends proud (and it was complete with 3 different hot alcohol drinks – hot chocolate with rum, Gluhwein and hot tea with brandy to warm us up!).  Completely refreshed, we made our way back to the train that would bring us the 180 km back into Vienna.

Many of the houses in Semmering used solar panels.

Many of the houses in Semmering used solar panels.

The following day in Vienna, our goals were to see the open air market, sample lots of chocolate, and experience the famous music scene.  We did the first two items on our list easy enough, and then finally ducked into a music store to purchase a compilation cd set of the famous musicians of Austria.  Our music collection is now graced by Mozart, Strauss, Haydn and Schubert.  The food in Vienna was fantastic, especially a dinner we had in a small restaurant recommended by our hotel that was out of the touristy center.

Temperatures were cold, with a blustery wind.  We took any and all opportunities to taste chocolate.

Temperatures were cold, with a blustery wind. We took any and all opportunities to taste chocolate.

The golden horns must be functional to keep the horses' ears warm, but there was a lot of eye rolling - we're not sure the horses liked being dressed up as cows.

The golden horns must be functional to keep the horses’ ears warm, but there was a lot of eye rolling – we’re not sure the horses liked being dressed up as cows.

...and after a while, the disagreement escalated to a lot of finger-pointing...

…and after a while, the disagreement escalated to a lot of finger-pointing…

The Naschmarkt was one of the best open air markets we had been to, as it was not too crowded.  We enjoyed the cultural diversity, including more eastern European foods.

The Naschmarkt was one of the best open air markets we had been to, as it was not too crowded. We enjoyed the cultural diversity, including eastern European foods that were completely new to us.

Sauerkraut is made from green cabbage and then fermented in enormous wooden barrels.  This fresh stuff looking amazing, although Justin gave the barrels a wide berth.

Sauerkraut is made from green cabbage and then fermented in enormous wooden barrels. This fresh stuff looked amazing, although Justin gave the barrels a wide berth.

Car2Go is the same car sharing program that we have in Austin!

Car2Go is the same car sharing program that we have in Austin!

Vienna has its share of modern buildings, often nestled next to distinctive historical buildings.  This is the Haas House, located a stone's throw from St. Stephen's Cathedral.

Vienna has its share of modern buildings, often nestled next to distinctive historical buildings. This is the Haas House, located a stone’s throw from St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

This picture was my favorite of those I took of St. Stephen's - unfortunately a good part of the building was under restoration.  Many of the historical structures we have seen in Europe have been involved in these types of reconstruction or restoration.

This picture was my favorite of those I took of St. Stephen’s – unfortunately a good part of the building was under restoration. Many of the historical structures we have seen in Europe have been involved in these types of reconstruction or restoration.

We thought about renting bikes and exploring the city that way, but opted to walk since the zone we had targeted was in a limited area.  However, we always notice the bike culture of a place, though!

No track stands allowed!

No track stands allowed!

Curiously, the rider appears to be sidesaddle.

It’s probably better for your knees to not ride bow-legged.

We fully intended to have a beer here, but never made it!

We fully intended to have a beer here, but never made it.

Wir machten viel Spaß!

The Magical North Coast of Spain

31 Jan

Earlier this month, we took a detour north and east from Porto (Portugal) where we were spending some time on our sailboat to see the northern coast of Spain – the region we swore up and down would be one of the first trips we would take in our European adventures.  Since we’re just getting to the area eighteen months or so in, we did not quite meet that goal!

But…we should have – we were in awe.  Had we done this earlier, it’s quite likely that we would have done a few more trips to explore more.  The area reminds us a lot of the Pacific Northwest of the US, where we both are originally from – it’s simply beautiful.  The pictures don’t give it justice, either!

The two areas we “toured” (if you can call a drive through with as many stops as we could fit into the day) were the Spanish provinces of Galicia and Asturias – in the summer months, there are many outdoor activities (think kayaking, canoeing, hiking and the like).  It would be an incredible area to bike-tour, although important to stay off of the main drags with traffic.

Enjoy the scenery through the pictures we took!  Note – the raised tomb-like structures are called “hórreos” and are actually granaries that were erected to protect grain stores from rodents.  There may be a historical preservation requirement that bans their removal these days, as they were incredibly common.  Interestingly, the hórreos in Galicia were more like tombs, while those in Asturias were more square.  Before we knew what they were, though, we were brainstorming hard and fast to come up with crazy stories on what the heck they were (and stopping every 2 minutes for another picture)!

 

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45 hours in Paris

19 Nov

After watching the start of the Vendée Globe, we headed to Paris to see for ourselves if the city of light was all that and more.  We had a full day, plus a bit more before and after, for exploring.  I had downloaded a Rick Steves’ guide (thanks again, Tammy) through the Kindle app on our phones, and we had selected a few of the “must see” sights to commit to seeing.  The rest of the time was allotted to wandering and eating croissants, of course!

What we loved about Paris…

  • Musée d’Orsay – We both enjoyed the art (lots of impressionist and post-impressionist art) and spent our time really marveling at the talent, creativity and beauty inside the old train station.
  • Musée du LouvreAlthough we enjoyed seeing some of the “important” pieces of art at the museum, we had more fun joining in on the art…
  • Eiffel Tower – We planned to save some euros and climb the stairs up to the second level, where we would then take the elevator to the final 900 foot-tall viewing platform, but security closed the stairs access before we were able to purchase tickets (we had decided that we wanted to see the tower at night, with all of the lights, but apparently climbing at night is not allowed!).  So, we hopped on the diagonal elevator to the second level, and then took the normal elevator to the top.  The view was fantastic – maybe not totally worth the 28 euros total, but definitely not too bad!
  • Riding the Vélib bikes – Paris has a fantastic bike rental system, and we used the bikes every day we were in Paris.  The bikes were in good shape (without coaster brakes which tend to do their best to throw me, since I am used to being able to back pedal!).  There were lots of Parisians out and about, using these bikes, too – so great to see!  Unlike Madrid, the streets in Paris are much wider, so bike lanes are an easy addition to make.
  • Escargots – We Chris just loved the escargots (Justin was a sport and tried a snail, made faces, and ate the bread on the table instead while Chris polished off the rest).
  • French bread and croissants – We were told that the bread would be different, and until this trip to France, we had not noticed this.  Apparently lots of butter and a different kind of flour make a huge difference – bread was chewy, super-flavorful, and a terrible distraction for anyone trying to eat a more Paleo diet.

A few pictures of our trip are below…

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Paris – a tour of cars?

18 Nov

Paris must be full of wealthy people.  I guess rich people from all over the world do choose to live in Paris, so maybe this isn’t so surprising, but I have never seen such a concentration of exotic cars out on the road in my life.  I’ve never been to Monaco, maybe there it is even more extreme.  Anyway, in our short two day visit we saw several Ferrari’s, including this Mondial that was for sale on a street corner.

We saw two Lamborghini’s, including one that you could rent for 20 minutes for “only” 85 euros.

There were more 911’s than you could shake a stick at, this over the top AMG Mercedes,

and these TWO Bentley’s parked next to each other.

Right next to our hotel was the Telsa dealership.  This fully electric car can go from 0-62mph in 3.2 seconds!  Only 95k euros.

For the commoners, if you walked the Champs-Élysées, you could visit the “local” Renault, Citroen, and Peugot dealerships with their exotic and not so exotic offerings.

We preferred to stick with the bikes.  Paris has a very sophisticated bike rental program where you can pick up and drop off the bikes at different locations all over the city, and the first 30 minutes is free.

Spain Road Trip 3

2 Nov

The last part of a whirlwind trip through Andalucía and back into Madrid…

Tammy and I finished off our day touring the white hill towns in Granada.  As is the norm with Granada (at least for us), it took an extra 90 minutes or so to find the hotel, and I fully expect to get at least one friendly letter from the city asking me to send them money since I was probably driving where I was not supposed to.  But…we found the hotel, checked in, and then headed out to find some of the really good tapas that Granada is famous for.  We ended up finding place #1 – a gritty bar that I insisted we try since there looked to be “real” people inside – the tapa was some potato chips alongside a few pieces of cheese drizzled with olive oil (this tapa became known as “the oily cheese”).  We left.  Tammy chose place #2 – a swanky wine bar that took a while for the tapas to show…but it was definitely worth it – the two of us (mostly vegetarians) each gobbled up a mini hamburger with fancy sauce and swilled our delicious wine.  Pretty soon, we had decided we needed to see what the next tapa might be, so we ordered another glass of wine and were rewarded with a pretty little open-faced sandwich with pork and a green pepper….just as tasty!  We were convinced that the food would be excellent and opted to order a great rare tuna salad.  The place was a find – Puerta del Carmen.

The next day, we toured the Alhambra – the third time I had been, but the first time I was actually able to tour the palaces.  It was lovely, to say the least.  After our tour, we made our way back to our hotel to fetch the car.  Getting out of Granada was even more of an adventure than getting to the hotel – I think I was driving on sidewalks, while Tammy tried to hide under her seat.  But – we made it out of the city, somehow, and we drove back to Sevilla to return the rental car and hop the AVE back to Madrid.

Back in Madrid, Justin got to play tourist with us, so we visited a few museums, went spelunking for lunch in El Molar, and did a lot more eating and drinking…to show Tammy what we’ve learned about Spain!

It was a super visit.

Spain Road Trip 2

30 Oct

After a day and a half in Sevilla, Tammy and I rented a car to drive to Granada, via some of the white hill towns of Andalucía.  At the rental car place, the guy mentioned to me that I really should have my international driver’s permit on me when driving – this was something I had inadvertently left behind.  Both Justin and I have one, but in the last 15 months, we have never been told to have this or asked for this – so we had assumed it was a scheme by the local AAA back in Austin to make a little pocket change!  However, apparently not, as Tammy found in Rick Steve’s guide that technically, all drivers should carry one, in case they are stopped by an official, but it is not required to get a rental car.  Alright then.

We headed towards our first stop – Arcos de la Frontera, after putting the name of the town into the GPS and hitting “Go!”.  We soon found ourselves driving on what Rick called, “a dangerous, narrow road full of curves”.  It was, but we saw perhaps 2 other vehicles and were treated to some fantastic scenery (well, I was mostly trying to keep the car on the narrow road).  The route probably took a bit longer than the suggested toll route, but paid off in a “road less traveled” sort of way.

Our first destination: Arcos de la Frontera, where we wandered the streets, found an artist’s workshop, and bought some more nun cookies!

Winding up for our walking tour with Rick Steves in Arcos de la Frontera.

Magnificent entryway for the Church of Santa Maria.

At the Church of Santa Maria in Arcos, we learned about an old design in the rocks in front of the building where to this day, some people still do exorcisms!

Driving in Arcos de la Frontera was not for the typical American car, unless you wanted to bring home some authentic Spanish rock gouges.

Here is the window where you ring a bell to buy cookies from the cloistered nuns. Unlike Seville, we had to do the negotiation and selection of cookies with a real-life sister.

After successfully buying cookies through the convent turn-table, we had to go sample them!

We stopped by the workshop of Señor Andres Oviedo Vidal and enjoyed perusing his tile work (he did tell me I could take the picture, although it doesn’t quite seem so, does it?).

The view from the tiny city center in Arcos de la Frontera.

We continued on, and after stopping by a farm where we bought olive oil and some wine that *hopefully* will be good (we did not get to taste it, and since I have very little experience as a translator, I somehow agreed that we would go ahead and buy some of the wine…oops), we found ourselves in Zahara de la Sierra.  The town was spectacular, perched in the mountains overlooking a reservoir.  We started a short hike up to the very top of the mountain to an old watchtower, but our stomachs got the best of us when we realized it would be a 30-45 minute effort…and decided to find lunch instead.

In Zahara, there is a reservoir off to one direction, and then the city in the hills nestled in with old buildings off to another direction.

After we climbed up to Zahara, we were rewarded with a lovely view of a nearby reservoir.

Sopa de tomate…this was not what we expected tomato soup to be, but it was delicious!

After lunch, which starred two delicious surprises (carrots with pesto and a bread salad dish that had been named “sopa de tomate”), we took off down the mountain to find Granada…

Spain Road Trip 1

26 Oct

What to do when a good friend comes to visit?

Make the most of it by hitting some amazing places in Spain.

My good friend, Tammy, hopped the pond recently, and we made the most of her visit with a train trip to Sevilla, followed by a road trip through some of the white hill towns in Andalucía, and ended with some sight-seeing in Madrid.  The theme of the trip?  Eat (cheese and nun cookies* wherever possible), drink wine, do what Rick Steves says** and laugh!

We started our adventures without Justin and hopped on the AVE train to Sevilla.  Two and a half hours later, we were en route to our very cute hotel (the Amadeus, where musical instruments placed throughout the common areas were available for anyone to play).  Dropping off our bags, we then set out for some lunch and to start our tour of the “must sees” of Sevilla.  Our first meal became what we would later refer to as “the fried lunch”.  Justin had told Tammy that he had not figured out why croquetas were so popular here…and Tammy pronounced that she agreed whole-heartedly (I think they are fine, but they are most definitely quite heavy and highly questionable in terms of nutritional value!).  The wine, gazpacho and salmorejo (gazpacho is a cold tomato soup, and salmorejo is gazpacho on steroids – add a bit of bread and 40x the garlic) were excellent, though.

You get the sense that you are in a southern city, with the colors of the buildings and lengthy daylight hours.

A fantastic sunset our first night from the hotel rooftop terrace.

We found the Cathedral (Catedral de Santa María de la Sede) first, and with Rick Steves as our guide, wandered the building, huffed it to the top of the Giralda tower and wondered if Columbus’ remains were really buried there.  The cathedral is the 3rd largest in the world, and it was huge.  To climb the Giralda, we circled round and round up ramps, passing people breathing hard.  At the top, we were both sweating, as we got further away from the cool, dark interior of the cathedral.  The view of the city was fantastic, but it was warm, to say the least.

The Giralda Tower is a great landmark for orienting yourself in Sevilla.

Curiously, some of the doorways in the Sevilla Cathedral were quite short…

The view from the top of the Giralda Tower; all we could think about was the poor mules who used to have to climb the tower several times a day (in the brutal heat of summer) to call the Moors to prayer!

After the cathedral, we took off to find some nun cookies, recommended by Rick.  We found the little storefront and bought a box of chocolate-covered goodies to sample later on.  The next day, we toured the Alcázar, which is another UNESCO World Heritage site – so many of the monuments and old buildings in Spain, especially southern Spain, have strong Muslim roots from the days when the Moors ruled.  The excellent reputation that the Moors had as architects is apparent by visiting the structures that remain today, centuries later.

El Torno in Sevilla, where we purchased delicious cookies baked by cloistered nuns!

Gardens at all of the Spanish palaces and monuments that we have visited have been impressive; the Alcázar was no exception.

This painting is in one of the Alcázar buildings and shows the Virgin protecting those who dared brave the open seas in search of far-away lands.

Our exploration of Sevilla included lots of food and wine sampling – we found excellent tapas at several places (including one that we finally found after more than an hour of searching), as well as had lunch (a menu del día) at the Taberna del Albardero, where culinary students work the lunchtime business.  We ate very well (with the exception of too much fried food the first day!).

We had a great lunch at the Taberna del Albardero (at a super price), where culinary students handle the lunches.

A pomegranate tree! When the fruits are ripe, the bottom opens up like a trap door to drop the seeds!

* We discovered that you could buy cookies at convents where cloistered nuns baked and packaged them as a fundraiser for their work.

** Rick Steves has pretty awesome travel guides.

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