We head back to Boston in a few days. Wait, what … we’re just getting started, I’m sure of it. It’s been a fantastic adventure. For those of you who’ve been reading along, thanks for following our experiences vicariously through Colcord colored glasses.
To those of you who’ve shared in our journey, thanks for the memories!
The Koppermanns: Heiner and Anne …
The Himmlers: Harry and Claudia …
The Callahans: Steve and Amy …
The Kuliks: Heidi and Mark
The Berensons: Steve and Amy
along with Nate Berenson and Charlie Brown:
The Kanaars: Maurits and Anja
with Maartje, Sofie, and Max
The Byrnes: Justin and Cheryl
The Pickrells: Sue and Alan
Sam Foster (and Heiner, for a repeat performance)
Chris, Annie, and Brian! xo, xo, xo
The Kunsts: Nadja and Michael (and youngest, Lenard)
Recently, we were talking to our new Innsbruck friends, Harry and Claudia, while skiing at Seefeld Rosshütte, and they kindly offered up a fitting quote to sum up this year’s adventure: “Alles hat ein Ende – nur die Wurst hat zwei .”
Translation: “Everything has an end – except a sausage which has two.”
The ‘newness’ of being in Innsbruck has finally worn off. What a relief. We’ve succeeded in our quest to overcome the ‘tourist’ portion of our adventure. We wanted to fit in with the locals and be a part of this community. We’re regulars at our neighborhood grocery store (other shoppers have even come up to us to ask questions). We are known, along with Schatzi, at three area restaurants. We are familiar with the surrounding fields and paths all around our apartment. We’ve befriended ‘Timmy”, a 4 month old golden retriever in our neighborhood. We now know how to get around Innsbruck without having to use GPS. We have a core group of badminton buddies to play with on a regular basis. We also feel quite comfortable going to any number of ski areas. As of last count, we’ve been to 22 out of the 92 available on our pass. We understand how to drive, find the gondola stations (sometimes there’s more than one), pick out the best parking lots, and find the après ski hang outs.
So what’s not perfect?
Most of the time we’ve been here, we were happy to receive a free glass of tap water (‘Leitungswasser’) whenever we order a coffee or a glass of wine. Recently, we were alerted to the fact that some places are now changing their policies … due to the cost of having to wash the glasses, some places are opting to only sell water in glass bottles. We, as locals, disagree with this policy. Maybe they could charge .25 euro per glass. That should cover the cost for them and still offer a convenience for us. (Did you catch that ~ ‘as locals’?)
The parking garages throughout the city are not made for the feint of heart. They’re unusually narrow and are surrounded by cement posts at every turn. It takes a good number of ‘backing and forthing’ to get into many of these spaces. (It’s always so rewarding when we finally get into a spot and can still open our doors to get out of the vehicle.)
Not gonna miss the smoking. The good news is that at least it’s not allowed in most indoor places anymore. The bad news is that many people (yes, lots of young ones, too) smoke like chimneys. Really? Sad.
So what’s still magical?
We’re continually impressed by the many means of public transportation. The buses and trains here are just so reliable and ubiquitous. Since we have a car, we are also very grateful for the many parking garages dotted throughout the city of Innsbruck. It’s always easy to find a place to park and the cost for a few hours is equivalent to about $5 or $6. How convenient.
The surrounding mountains are still awe inspiring, every single day. Just like living near the ocean in Marblehead, we make sure to notice the never ending beauty in our daily lives. The stretch of the beautiful Alps envelop the valleys and create a gorgeous backdrop all around us, no matter where we go. They also provide a great way to track any impending storms as the clouds dance across the mountain peaks. Pictures (at least by our iphones) just don’t do it justice.
The meticulous care taken by municipal workers as they maintain the roads and properties in and around Innsbruck is inspirational. The Jersey barriers on the highway are power washed to clean off grime, the repair of local roads requires heavy equipment as the streets are at least 8″ thick. Any patch job is perfectly square and level with the existing road. (This is in direct opposition to the approach of ‘let’s throw a shovelful of black asphalt near a pothole and hope that takes care of it’.) We’ve seen workers carefully taping and then painting ~ by hand~ new markings on the street. Right after a snowstorm, we’ve seen workers out at 6:30 am shoveling pathways so that people can easily walk on the sidewalks to get to their trains and buses. We’ve had workers actually pay attention to traffic during a construction site, which means they are then able to direct traffic to keep things rolling. It’s just all about taking care and also taking pride in a job well done. All these examples help to create a general feeling of appreciation for those who work everyday to improve the quality of life for us all. This level of maintenance is something to aspire to.
Our friend, Heidi, a U.S. transplant who now lives near Munich, asked us what we’ll do differently when we go back … for starters, we hope to:
be more mindful of not generating trash in the first place
recycle more of everything we use
give up on the regular (and unnecessary) use of paper towels
give up paper napkins and switch to cloth
get outside even more to enjoy the outdoors
continue to use our electric car as much as possible; try to limit the use of the gasoline one
It’s been great to be a part of another culture. It has opened our eyes to how ‘different’ can be fantastic. We, of course, appreciate all we’ve been exposed to in the mostly wonderful world of the U.S. and are equally appreciative of broadening our horizons a bit. We feel fortunate to have had the chance to be ambassadors for those who want to learn a little about our lives back home. The world is getting smaller, one experience at a time. How wonderful. For our new friends from abroad, we have two guest rooms. We’re ready to share.
You may think I’m just lazing around the apartment all day with nothing to do. Not exactly the case. True confession, though … I have spent a couple of days under the bed due to getting stuck! For some reason, it’s easy to get under the bed but more difficult to get myself out from under it once I’m there … too bad I don’t know how to mediate; missed opportunity, for sure. For the most part, though, I have managed to make a great life for myself while the ‘roommates’ are off skiing and otherwise amusing themselves.
First order of business: try to look cute and friendly. This has proven to be a great tactic for getting noticed:
Let’s see … the owners of our apartment building, the Kasperhof, have a 13 year old son named Hannes. He has come to be one of my best friends here. I’m not always sure what he’s saying, but he says it with kindness in his eyes. (Either that, or it’s just the sun glinting off his sunglasses.) One of my favorite things about Hannes is that he has his own horse. When Kevin and Dee were in Vienna, Hannes took me to meet Django. After this encounter, I no longer tolerate any complaints about shedding. Django has a LOT more hair than I do. Case closed. I’ve heard people refer to him as having 12 hands, but I only noticed 4 hooves. Maybe I just wasn’t being observant enough. In any case, Django was fun to get to know.
My best human friend has been Anne Koppermann. During her visit, she chose not to ski (knee injury, something about an old football injury, I think). That left her with plenty of time to take me for walks throughout the neighborhood. She was always saying sweet things to me (at least that was my translation for her German words). Anne even took me to a very popular restaurant nearby, called the Buzihütte, for a nice walk and some lunch. We both enjoyed the walk; only she enjoyed the lunch! I guess everyone’s on the same page re: not allowing me to have any ‘people’ food. That’s okay; I’m used to the program.
One of my favorite weeks here has been when ‘the kids’ ~ at least that’s what Dee and Kevin refer to them as ~ came to visit. The apartment just came alive when they were here: lots of crossword puzzles, card games, board games, hugs, kisses, … you get the idea. If I were in charge, they would be here all the time.
All in all, this has been a great adventure for me. We’ve had lots of company to keep me entertained while at the apartment. I’m also been so lucky to be able to go into stores, restaurants, and hotels. This has made me feel like I’m a real part of the family. I think I’m a changed dog; should be interesting to see how that plays out next time I try to join my gang at Maddie’s in Marblehead or Maison Robert in Boston. Can’t wait.
English phrase ~ see sign above.
Hunde sind an diesem Ort willkommen ~ Menschen toleriert
interesting to us, anyway. Who knows, this information may come in handy for you someday.
Haircuts: So, this was one of our first ‘non skiing’ challenges. How exactly does one go about getting a haircut in an unfamiliar country? Let’s see … a sign in the window across from our regular grocery store ~ Haar Studio Brigitte ~ hmm, that looks a lot like the word ‘hair’. The salon owner didn’t speak English, so Maurits, my Dutch and German speaking friend, accompanied me to assist in the appointment process. I didn’t understand much, but was relatively sure the German word ‘lila’ (‘purple’) was mentioned. A week later, I came prepared:
English to German translations for hair related words (although I decided I could’ve used a slightly larger sheet of paper instead of just a Post-It note)
recent photo of me with the preferred style
There was a lot of smiling and head nodding in the affirmative by my stylist. That was a good first sign, I thought. I was comforted by the fact that she was both pretty and had a nice hairstyle herself; that meant that she cared about looks ~ I just hoped that carried over to others, too. We managed to agree that my hair was very thick and needed to be thinned a bit ~ standard operating procedure back in the States. This was communicated through gestures and also my pointing to the word for “thin’ (‘dunn’). I guess my stylist got the message because she pulled up a chair alongside me and proceeded to very enthusiastically use the thinning shears, for quite a while. I finally managed to get her attention and used some creative sign language (not the official version, of course) to get her to switch to regular scissors. So, she made the switch to scissors, but stopped in the middle of this phase to go smoke a cigarette. (Thank goodness she went outside for this break.) At this point, I was wondering if there were any wig stores nearby, just in case I needed to go to plan ‘B’. Happily, although the woman didn’t speak English, she did actually know how to cut hair. I’ll definitely go back to the same place again. My only regret is that my appointment was scheduled for the same time as Kevin’s trip to his barber. His ‘metrosexual’ cut ~ i.e., lots of layers and wisps here and there ~ turned out great. Though, I do wish I could’ve seen Kevin’s expressions as he waited ever so patiently for his unique haircutting experience. Kevin said he’s never seen anything like it:
Barbershops in Austria? Well, over here that is a very different deal. There were 4 barbers, 3 chairs, and lots of waiting. For every patron, each barber did some piece of the process … it was sort of a dance but the pattern was impossible to discern. I think it was worth the experience!
Nail salons … There are many bargains in Austria, but nail salons are not in that category. A manicure costs roughly twice what it costs in the U.S. Although, it also takes twice as long so it’s probably an even swap. It was necessary to find a nail salon in preparation for the Vienna waltz trip. This was interesting … the woman not only didn’t speak more than a few words of English, but she also didn’t speak much German! Too bad, I think I was finally getting used to the cadence of our almost adopted language. It turns out this woman was recently from Bulgaria. The procedure is very different … first, the entire area at the table in front of me had to be disinfected. This took almost 5 minutes, so I’m guessing I won’t catch any viruses for the rest of my time abroad. My favorite part of the process was when the mini ‘woodworking’ tools came out. I was thinking that maybe I needed to divulge some secrets in order to avoid fingernail torture, but it turned out to be both pleasant and quite effective. My manicurist’s name was Nadyavam se, which means ‘Hope’. That works for me. Yet another challenge overcome.
Grocery stores … as mentioned in an earlier post, we don’t have much refrigerator space so grocery shopping needs to happen every few days. We’ve been trying to shop like the locals so don’t ask many questions, even though the staff seem to speak enough English to help us. It’s been fun (mostly) trying to ‘read’ the labels to make sure we’re buying what we think we’re buying. We were happily buying what we thought was half and half; discovered that it was actually full-on cream with a very high fat content. No wonder our coffee has tasted so good. Yes, we’re still buying it.
All stores have a great assortment of fresh fruit and vegetables, neatly arranged for easy viewing. In addition to packaged breads, there is a bakery for daily treats. It’s fun to wander the aisles and see the different sauces, crackers, and spices that come from being in another country. One of the many conveniences includes being able to buy beer, wine, and liquor at the grocery store. This just simplifies the process of stocking up. So civilized. While we have come to expect high quality grocery stores, the real surprise came whenever we stopped to re-fuel. Gas stations sell all sorts of food, including fresh produce, baked goods, and beer and wine. Even more civilized.
Transportation … no problem getting around the city of Innsbruck or many of the surrounding valleys and/or countries. Choices include trains, planes (airport is six minutes from our apartment), and buses. All buses are free with our ski card. In the surrounding villages, all buses are free if one is dressed in ski clothes.
We really haven’t had any dull moments, even off the mountain. That may explain why our blog postings are less frequent. We’ll try to turn it up a notch again.
We’ve had many discussions with our German friends over the years regarding the main difference between living in the U.S. versus living in Europe. Their take is that Germans (and other Europeans) take their leisure time (aka “wellness”) very seriously. They work very hard when they’re working and they absolutely also know how important it is to recharge.
As a contrast, a few years back, we stayed at the Westin Rio Mar in Puerto Rico. This was a high end resort mainly frequented by tourists from New York. At the time, our routine consisted of getting up early (5:30 or 6:00 am) to work out a bit before we dove into our somewhat hedonistic activities for the day. (Annie and Chris were smarter; they just enjoyed some well earned sleep.) As we walked around the massive pool area, we noticed a strange sight. Every single chaise lounge was covered in either a towel and/or set of flip flops and/or a hat. This was because the New Yorkers got up very early to reserve their spots for the day. Just to paint the picture for you ~ there were actually NO people there at this time; just their stuff. Their idea of relaxation was to make sure no one else could get there first. (I can say that with certainty because I was born and raised in New York ~ got over most of that). I’d call this “wellness for me”. On the ski hill, there is a similar dynamic … Americans getting in all the runs they can … 8:30 am ’til closing. (Kevin used to suffer from this malady; he’s better these days.)
In Austria, there’s a different approach: let’s call it “wellness for all”. It’s easy to find hotels with spas, saunas, and full blown wellness centers, in addition to their guest rooms. The idea is that people really need to have many opportunities to fully unwind. This extends to their families, too. Many places provide areas for kids, too.
When Cheryl and Justin Byrne were visiting, we decided to take a day off from skiing to check out the wellness at the Aqua Dome, located in Längenfeld, about 40 minutes from Innsbruck. (Thanks for the great idea, Cheryl.) We treated ourselves to 3 hours at this thermal spa resort. There were two indoor pools (gigantic), solariums, infrared booths, relaxation rooms, an outdoor sulphur pool, an outdoor saltwater pool, a lazy river area, and a lap pool ~ just to name a few of the amenities. Of course, they also had a great variety of breakfast and lunch choices in the beautifully appointed restaurant. We didn’t see the ‘no photos allowed’ signs at first (honest), so here are just a few.
The unique architectural style ~ giant saucer shaped outdoor pools ~ coupled with a giant solarium for the indoor space created a great atmosphere for total relaxation. The views of the surrounding mountains were stunning. The property had a cross country track along the perimeter so skiers in their colorful outerwear added to the ambiance. Justin tried out the massage option and decided that maybe signing up for 25 minutes wasn’t quite long enough. Cheryl was so good at relaxing that she actually fell asleep while trying to read on one of the many (none of them ‘taken’) loungers scattered throughout the resort. We’ve successfully put the ‘we’ back in wellness.
Serious wellness entails a process that is both ruthlessly efficient and relaxed. Each patron is given a wrist band and that band is your access to everything: changing room, locker, each wellness area, and the restaurant. Everything experienced is recorded magnetically and then upon exit, you settled up. For about 30€ each, we got the treatment and a nice coffee break.
Europeans are also very good at relaxation when on the ski hill. There’s a small percentage who try to get up for the first run, but most don’t hit the slopes much before 10 am. A typical day usually includes skiing for a couple of hours, followed by a two hour relaxing lunch break. After lunch, maybe one run and then down to the valley for Aprés ski (in their boots – sometimes ’til late at night.) Aprés is followed by a long Wellness session in the hotel before heading out for a leisurely dinner. Wellness for all, yes indeed.
Let’s see … 10 weeks of waltz lessons + talking friends into joining us + buying and shipping a tuxedo and ball gown abroad + purchasing tickets for both entry to and a table in the ante room for the Kaffeeseiderball in Vienna + 7 months of anticipation = a bit of a disappointment.
Thursday and Friday: … exploring Vienna before the grand event …
We were all (yes, even the guys) anxiously awaiting the upcoming Kaffeeseiderball … Dee and Kevin C, Cheryl and Justin Byrne, Anne and Heiner Koppermann:
Maybe we just did it incorrectly, but we were greeted with throngs of people (3600 in all), lots of going up and down stairs in extremely crowded hallways to get to our ante room tables. It was nice to have a place to rest our feet, but we paid for just a table; no food, no drink. ALL food/drink was extra. Service was spotty, food was decent but pricey. The opening quadrille by the debutantes and also the ballet performance were viewed on a screen in front of us. (I had already seen last year’s version of this on-line; this didn’t look much different.) This was all okay. We understood that those who paid a much heftier price were rewarded with seating in the main ballroom so that they could experience the opening ceremonies in person. I wouldn’t exactly call our screen a ‘JumboTron’, but it was adequate for viewing the performances.
The real disappointment came with the realization that there was actually no place for us to waltz to classical music in any of the designated ballrooms. We’re not sure why this was so. I had come to the ball with the thought that even if we held our own on the dance floor for 15 minutes of waltzing, it would be worth the price of admission. The reality turned out to be that we were able to dance for about 2 minutes in one of the smaller rooms to 80’s music (not that there’s anything wrong with that time period; just didn’t need to get super dressed up to do that).
Things we did think were worth it: Wow, you cannot believe how many beautiful women were there in the most amazing gowns. I DO mean absolutely stunning. In my next life I may join their ranks. It was almost impossible to choose our favorites from the almost endless supply of pure beauty. Really great. Our men (Kevin, Justin, and Heiner) looked fantastic in their tuxedos. Really great. Our friends, Anne and Heiner and Cheryl and Justin, were there to make the night extra special. Really great. There was also a spectacular display of fancy cakes. They were probably not worth eating, but that’s okay. Really great. The interior of the Hofburg Imperial Palace itself ~ breathtaking. Really great. Having the chance to dress up like grown-ups was fun. Really great.
Would we recommend attending a waltz in Vienna? Not sure. Would we recommend creating unique memories with friends? Of course.
I give Kevin a hard time for being such a control freak (Hello, pot? This is the kettle!) but when a system works, you go with it. Saturday morning we set out for PatscherKofel, site of the downhill events during the 1976 Winter Olympics won resoundingly by home town hero Franz Klammer. If you have been reading the blog, you know how the resorts work here. Kevin’s schedule called for us to leave by 8ish and we just about made it.
Our Saturday went like this: Ski, drink (weissbeir), ski, drink (gluewien), ski, drink (weissbier and a shot of williams birner), eat (pommes–rhymes with hummus, means french fries) go home, hot tub and nap. We walked to a neighborhood restaurant, switched our language to Italian, and I think I must have been glowing by that point. The tension has been slowly leaving as I leave Twitter and most news from the US behind.
I don’t intend my posting to be just a travelogue, so let me share what has surprised me the most. The pass for the day was less than €40. We were nearly alone on most every run we took. And we are the only Americans we have encountered. Oh, and did I mention WE ARE SKIING IN THE FREAKING ALPS??? The sun shone and it reached 14C. That’s 60 degrees. We are using sunscreen.
We went to Axamer Lizum today. Site of the Slalom and Giant slalom during the Olympics. The resorts here just work. So intuitive! Shelves in the bathrooms for your helmets and gloves. Hooks for your jackets. RFID cards that you put in your sleeve pockets that open the gates at the lifts.
If you looked at a map of Axamer Lizum you would count fewer than 10 trails. For New Englanders used to measuring a day of skiing’s success by the number of runs you did on the most amount of trails (preferably all black and double blacks), this is another shock. The trails are long and wide and steep and challenging and can take hours to get down (especially if you stop for a Weiss bier at one of the many huts on the mountain). Here, it’s all about the quality. And the family. We have seen people skiing with babies in backpacks, babies skiing, grandparents and grandchildren skiing together.
Speaking of quality, there are no better hosts than Kevin and Dee. We have been friends for long enough that we know how well we travel together. But there is something different at work here, as they are living here for the winter. This is their home, not a hotel and yet we do not feel like we are guests, or intruding. (At this moment, Kevin is playing the guitar and we are singing along.)
We are quite certain Kevin was German in a prior life. He is so at home here, understands at a cellular level how things work, and how they should. Dee is skiing like a pro, pushing herself to new heights and challenging herself at every turn. (oh yeah, the trails here just turn, like, Oh, Here’s a left!) We are so grateful and happy to get to experience some of this with them.
Post script: We are eating camembert, liverwurst and crackers and drinking Gruner Veltliner all of which we bought at a gas station on our way home from the resort. Everything in Austria is closed on Sunday. They are all fabulous. AND I have a sunburn. In February. In Austria.
Post post script: SO HAPPY I bought the bib. I have taken a couple of spectacular spills that should have left snow (like glitter) EVERYWHERE. Nope. Mir geht’s gut.