A Little Variety Never Hurts

This year, our plan was to try out a few other activities other than just skiing. Truth be told, we still ARE mostly skiing, at a dizzying pace. But, we have managed to expand our horizons a little bit.

I had the pleasure of joining my friend, Claudia, along with her mother, Gerti, and daughter, Anna, for a hike right outside our apartment. I should know by now that Austrians are always serious about doing anything in the out of doors. We basically walked straight uphill ~ this time I am talking about a mountain, not a molehill ~ for 45 minutes. Gerti looked like a mountain goat ~ in a good way ~ as she easily and quickly made her way to the top. Our first destination was a chapel built in 1777 … it was so simple, beautiful, and spiritual. Our second destination was Planötzenhof Inn where Claudia treated us to coffee and delicious cake. Actually, Claudia’s mom treated all of us since the Inn only took cash and Claudia didn’t have any. (Good strategy, Claudia!)

4 Sweethearts: Gerti, Anna, Claudia, and Schatzi
Yes, the cake was as good as it looks.

I’ve always enjoyed watching ice skating; Kevin, not so much. I was able to convince him to go to Holiday on Ice … right downtown Innsbruck … took us less than 10 minutes to get there. Parking was 5€, beers were 4€ (+ 2€ deposit so they get the plastic cups back for re-use – good idea). It turned out to be a fun thing to do. The skating, dancing, acrobatics, costumes, and music were all top shelf.

Skiing brought us back to the Stubaier Gletscher… it was one of our favorites from last winter. It did not disappoint. We were joined by our friend Heiner and his son, Linus. We all enjoyed excellent gulaschsuppe while sitting outside in pure sunshine. Our day ended with a long valley run via a ski route that ended 8 meters from our parked car.

For those who’ve always wondered, yes, Kevin really is king.
… unless he’s dethroned by either Linus or Heiner.

My humbling skinning experience taught me to try again by myself so that I wouldn’t have to drag Claudia with me … managed to go twice more with the goal of shaving some time off my ascent. I’m happy to report I remembered Claudia’s instructions for changing the ski setting from UP to DOWN, but have to admit I did initially forget to take the skins off the bottoms of the skis. Luckily, this was both obvious and easily fixed. I am always trying to learn new German words whenever I get the chance … I happened upon a sign on this skinning trail. It consisted of many German words and a couple of photos. I figured out some of the wording and only then noticed that the photos were a warning to keep dogs on leash; I’ll spare you the details of what happens to forest animals when dogs run free.

I think we figured out the key to success for seeing waltzing at a Viennese ball ~ watch it on TV! Wow, we could see the whole pageantry while we had our feet comfortably propped up on our ottoman. It’s not quite the same as being there, all dressed up, in person with our friends, but it really wasn’t a bad plan B.

Wow ~ awesome for both participants and spectators

Another key to success … getting friends to cook meals while we’re busy skiing! Anne joined Heiner with her youngest, Linus, for the week. Anne opted not to ski which was certainly to our advantage. This gave her time to create a fantastic Austrian meal of spinat kanoodles (including lots of butter and parmesan, of course), followed by a delicious berry cloud dessert. Anne and I also had a chance to take a few long walks with our hundes, Anton and Schatzi. I tried to get her to consider skinning with me someday, but she prefers to walk on more level ground without all the up and down activity. Can’t say that I blame her. It was fun to spend time with her off the mountains.

Isgl girls … Anne and Schatzi

Sölden ski area … it was a bear and we have the picture to prove it:

The conditions were actually pretty awful. Due to the warmer than usual weather, the slopes were showing the effects of the thaw/freeze pattern. (Translation: ice.) This was compounded by an overcast day which meant visibility was tough. And this was also compounded by the fact that the slopes were absolutely mobbed. We can thank the Dutch school holiday week for that. Not all was lost, though … the last run down to the valley was amazing due to warmer temperatures and slushy piles of snow. It was a hoot to ski it.

Kevin, having one of his favorite meals at PatscherAlm (a sweet, magical hutte at Patscherkofel) … I should’ve taken a picture with his favorite Austrian chef, Nora. She, of course, was busy in the kitchen. Get the hauswurst with kartoffel salat when you go.

All these fun adventures created a need for us to connect with a woman named Bettina. She is a professional massage therapist. No, I’m not willing to share her contact information; she’s already quite booked up so it’s a challenge to get an appointment. It was a real treat … not only was it much less expensive (about half price) than what we’re used to, but she actually spent an extra 20 minutes on me ~ no charge ~ guess she can recognize a train wreck when she sees one. Thanks to Bettina, we can both move again and live to ski another day or 10 or 20.

We really never have a dull moment … I find myself almost craving one some days! Heiner is staying at Kasperhof for a month … his oldest son, Lukas, and friend, Henry, are now visiting ~ reinforcements showed up! We’ve had a lot of laughs over dinners and card games. The ‘boys’ are avid snowboarders so they’ve been busy flying past us (well, okay just me) on the slopes.

What’s that saying? Better to ask forgiveness than permission …
Left to Right: Heiner, Lukas, and Henry after a day on the slopes.

We try to find something interesting to do when we have our ‘off’ days ~ i.e. no ski days ~ we took advantage of the amazingly springlike weather and went to the Alpenzoo which is located on the hillsides just near the edge of Innsbruck proper. Our Marblehead friends, Amy and Steve B visited last year and recommended this place. We were pleasantly surprised by the artful architecture of the enclosures and the meandering walkway ramps. The animals seemed to be well cared for. It was great to see moose, ibex, vultures, pigs, sheep, and other assorted wildlife. My favorite part was hearing the toddlers squeal with delight as they encountered the different animals. My other favorite part was seeing a brown bear waking up from a nap to stretch and take in the sunshine. We enjoyed all of this while taking in a vista of Innsbruck below. Not a bad take for a lazy Sunday morning.

Just an ordinary zoo pic; my others wouldn’t load!
It was a really interesting zoo, I promise.

Our initial plan was to spend a couple of days in Venice, Italy while here but, for obvious reasons that plan needs a little tweaking. We hope to explore some other places in Austria before April; we’ll take it one day at a time and see where we end up.


Time to Get Some Skin in the Game …

Whenever I ask Kevin where we should go when skiing he usually very cleverly answers “down”. I’ve noticed that not everyone follows this path. There are plenty of people who ‘skin up’ the mountain instead. This entails using much lighter skis, flexible boots, poles, and a backpack filled with lots of essentials. Note: the skis have a ‘skin’ on them, which is essentially a sticky strip, similar to Velcro, to provide traction on the bottom of the skis. These days, the skins are artificially made; they, of course, used to be made from animal skins. The goal for skinning is to climb up for a LONG time to eventually ski down just one run. How hard could that be?

Thanks to my wonderful Austrian friend, Claudia, I was able to answer this question. Claudia has skinned up mountains on a regular basis for over twenty years. (She’s also one of the best downhill skiers I’ve ever seen.) She really connects with the outdoors as she makes her way up various slopes with her group of ‘regulars’. She always has a smile on her face, so it must be lots of fun.

Claudia, professional skinning coach

Claudia kindly offered to loan me all the equipment necessary to skin up with her. She chose an absolutely stunningly beautiful day at Rosshutte ski area in Seefeld. The plan was to start at 9:00 in the morning and skin up while the guys were skiing downhill elsewhere on the mountain. We were to then meet for coffee at 10:30 am. We were to skin up 530 meters (1738 feet), which usually takes her 1.5 hours so the timing for meeting up was perfect.

Enter the novice skinner and all bets are off. First, it takes a few minutes to get the hang of the technique. The foot of the ski is ‘free’ from the base, so you need to lift up your foot for every step. Claudia adjusted my ski base so that I had a shorter distance to move my foot with each step. I joked that I’d never imagined going up a snowy hill in high heels. The proper motion involves lifting up your heel, gliding forward with the ski, and using the poles to help propel you up the slope. Okay, so after a short while, this works fairly well. Now add some steepness to the equation and it gets a whole lot more challenging. In order to prevent the ski sliding back (even with the skins), it’s necessary to lift the ski up before placing it back on the snow. Pretty simple.

Politics aside, climate change is a huge factor in skinning. We started at the base with many layers on: under layer, thin jacket, puffy jacket, headband, gloves (with heating elements for those who are always cold). After about 10 minutes or when coming into a section of the wooded trail that has full sun, OR when exerting oneself to just get up the hill, a change in gear is needed. Time to stop, take off a layer or two, get out the sunglasses … you get the idea. It’s kind of like camping while in motion.

After learning to make all the gear adjustments (yes, at some point it was necessary to put some of the layers back on, only to take them off again later), it’s time to address the real issue … the cardio challenge! If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear I had been a chain smoker all my life. Let’s see, we started at 1,230 meters (4,035 feet) and went uphill to 1,760 meters (5,774 feet). Compare that to something back home: For those of you who ski Cannon Mountain … this would be like skinning from the base of Cannon to the top of Mittersill.

Thankfully, Claudia is a very kind woman so she didn’t laugh at me no matter how many times I asked for a break. We were on a skinning trail most of the time, but were also able to go into the deep snow as we meandered through the woods. Despite all the physical challenges, it was a magical experience. She and I talked about how stunning the views were and how peaceful it was to skin while surrounded by snow covered trees. Claudia also mentioned ~ at this point I think she was just feeling sorry for me ~ that, at times, skinners know to silently head up the hill to conserve energy for making the climb.

I can only go up from here.

So, the obvious question is probably “Why would anyone want to exert all this effort for this activity?” Many answers for this: Skinning is a great way to fully experience the winter outdoors, enjoy stunning scenery, camaraderie with a friend, amazing cardio workout, and exercise using many different muscles. The best part is the reward for reaching the top … eating and drinking ANYTHING you like! Seriously, it’s important to replenish yourself after all the exertion. Gotta love this important component of the skinning concept. I was actually too tired to fully explore this part of the experience this time; will strive to do better next round.

Snow, snow, snow!

Once at the top, it’s then time to pull out all the layers and the ski helmet from the backpack, take the skins off the skis, lock the boots and the skis, and then just ski down the hill. Wow, gravity actually can be your friend. Skinning certainly gives one a great appreciation for just going down the hill.

Inquiring minds may want to know … Claudia and I didn’t meet the guys for coffee at 10:30 because it actually took us 3 hours to get up to the hut. Claudia had offered me opportunities to stop skinning and get on a chairlift to get to the hut, but I think that would’ve been cheating. Patience is a virtue and Claudia is extremely virtuous! Thank you, my friend. I look forward to my next trek UP the hill.

Not exactly at our destination, but getting closer!

Videos intentionally left out of this posting; attempts to get enough air into my lungs would’ve drowned out anything interesting.

Valentine’s Day present from Kevin

P.S. I’m not sore yet, unless you count a slightly bruised ego from this humbling experience. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.


One more time (noch einz) ? …

Thing One and Thing Two (you decide who’s who) have been discussing whether or not to do a blog for this year’s return trip to Innsbruck. As of this first writing, we’re still struggling with how to make it interesting and/or relevant. Let’s see how it goes … feel free to provide feedback; it may or may not be taken into account.

As is tradition, we landed in Frankfurt and spent our first day/night with our good friends, Anne and Heiner. They really treated us like royalty (probably along the lines of the status of Harry and Meghan) … we had a fantastic traditional German breakfast even though one of us would rather have just gone to sleep for 10 hours first. We spent a fun night going out to dinner in Alzey (20 minutes from Anne and Heiner’s town of Flonheim). We went to a Greek restaurant, because that just makes so much sense when visiting Germany, right? We had a great meal and had lots of laughs over some interesting artwork hanging on the walls. Anne sent us packing the next morning with plenty of food and wine for our first night in Innsbruck … now that really did make us feel like royalty. Thank you!

The good news is that we actually now know two things: where we live AND how to get to other places. Last year, our GPS was our guide; without it, we probably wouldn’t have made it much further than our grocery store, located two blocks away. Happily, we are now familiar with our adopted ‘town’ and have no trouble returning to some of our favorite ski areas.

Our backyard at Kasperhof

Let’s see … weather: It’s been warm and sunny (4 – 12 degrees C, which is about 40 – 56 degrees F), also seen rain (in the valleys), snow, blizzard conditions (up to 24 inches of snow in one day) … so, yes, weather is similar to last year … lots of variation which keeps it interesting. Generally, though, it feels eerily like spring. We know this can’t possibly hold since it’s only the very beginning of February.

Favorite experiences so far include our ‘kids’ visiting … first Chris, followed a few days later by Annie and Brian. Schatzi was probably one of the happiest dogs in Innsbruck once the gang showed up. This apartment exploded with laughter, wet towels, lots of excellent cooking, vicious card games (Brian, if you give the Queen of Spades to Dee ONE MORE TIME, you may risk losing your current title of favorite son-in-law), and many intense time-delayed airings of Australian Open tennis matches. Next time you run into Annie, ask her how she feels about the ‘Let’ rule in professional tennis (then, duck).

We’ve been here a little over two weeks and have already had lots of great experiences. I’m most excited about how the ski areas are becoming familiar … I actually know which lifts/gondolas/funiculars get to the different restaurants and huts and I also now know how to get back to where we’ve started in the mornings. It’s fun to feel like these are now ‘my’ ski places. I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks … my skiing is coming along ~ yay.

Two thorns, no waiting.

Annie in her happy place ~ abroad!

Celebrating survival of night sledding.

Full disclosure … this year’s adventure started with us both having the flu (yes, we had flu shots in October); this has created a delay in getting started so, sorry to cheat, but here’s a quick list of what’s happened so far (no particular order) … I promise not to do this again.

  • A few trips to downtown Innsbruck to walk around, shop, have coffee, have dinners
  • Skiing at Seefeld (sunny), Bergeralm (sunny), Oberperfuss (sunny), Axamer Lizum (you guessed it ~ sunny), skied along racers at Hannenkamm in Kitzbuel (mostly sunny), ZillerTal + Gerlos (sunny), Schlick 2000 (blizzard), Mutters (blizzard), Kappl ( 24″ of fresh powder ~ Kevin, Chris, and Brian skied) … you get the idea.

Did we mention how sunny it’s been?

Don’t forget to try the lasagne Bolognese

Chris and the Austrian badminton gang

  • A homemade Austrian dinner hosted by our friends: Claudia and Harri and their ‘kids’, Lucas and Anna (and super nice boyfriend, Simon)
  • A visit to Schloss Ambras (castle) in Innsbruck: Annie, Brian, Chris ~ tour guide: Claudia
  • Badminton with the Innsbruck gang ~ Chris joined us the first time … one of the guys noticed that Chris didn’t seem to need to play very hard; just kept the bird in play. Great observation … he was right. 🙂
  • Return to one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants ~ Da Giovanni ~ the waitress even remembered Kevin’s name! She, of course, remembered Schatzi, too AND embarrassingly enough remembered that I usually ordered their lasagna Bolognese (I’m 2 for 2 this year … think I had it at least 12 times last year.)
  • Nighttime sledding in Kirchberg with our friends Nadja, Michael, and Lenard

That’s all for now … we are expecting our Dutch friends, Maurits and Anja, to join us for a week, starting tomorrow night. Just FYI … they are CRAZY. To be continued …


Who Makes it Great?!

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.”

After the thrill is gone,

we’re happy to report that we’re still thrilled.

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.

a couple of Thursday night regulars: Gese and Manfred
(Helly is on the right ~ really excellent player)

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.

view from our apartment balcony
a little bit of snow
a bit more snow
Innsbruck and beyond
a peek of sun after a snow squall

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.

Ho hum, just another careful patch job.
a friendly reminder to take care of the lawn

Why not use a decorative floor in the grocery store?

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.

It’s a hunde’s life …

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.

Prepositions are important: in this case, over is much better than under.

First order of business: try to look cute and friendly. This has proven to be a great tactic for getting noticed:

Pretty good start, don’t you agree?

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.

My friend, Anne. xo

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.

Some of the Schatzi Fan Club members: Kevin, Brian*, Annie*, and Chris*
* aka ~ ‘the kids’

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.

Enough said.

English phrase ~ see sign above.

German translation:

Hunde sind an diesem Ort willkommen ~ Menschen toleriert

Daily Life,

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.

Translation: Nice that you’re here