Cividale del Friuli

I have a certain love affair with Italy. After visiting Venice and Rome last year, I can’t seem to stop thinking about returning, even just packing all my stuff up and moving there, never to come back. I don’t think I’m alone in this but for me it’s a bit more than just enjoying the people, the food, the wine, and the culture, it’s a big part of who I am – Just ask Andrew what he thinks about the stereotypical things I do – So when my parents were visiting last week, we decided to take a trip to Venice, being that it’s so close. But before that, we were going to make a pit stop to a place that’s not only a part of me, but a part of my mom and her family. Cividale del Friuli. It’s a small village about 20 min from Udine, Italy and another 1 1/2 hours from Venice. The town is close to where my great-grandparents grew up in the Italian countryside. They would walk there to get their mail. And it’s where some of my mom’s side of her family still lives today.

The town has a lot of history, dating as far back as 50BC, when Julius Caesar founded it as part of the Roman Empire. From there, the history and who occupied it goes on and on. We started the trip making our way around the handful of town squares and churches.

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All the buildings were so colorful. Each was so different. The narrow roads wound their way from one square to the next. Some homes had laundry hanging between buildings, others had all their shutters open and flowers in boxes along the windows. Our first stop was to the Monastero di Santa Maria in Valle. The Monastery was founded in the seventh century AD. It was a beautiful place and very peaceful.

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From there we walked around to the Tempietto Longobardo, which was built somewhere around 760. The temple itself is quite small. It would probably be the size of a large living room in a house. The illustrations drawn on the stucco of the building are very faint but beautiful. Inside there are about 2 dozen wood-carved chairs along the walls and what looks like desks around the inner part. After exiting the temple we were able to walk along the Natisone river. The landscape was incredible.

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From there we walked to the Ponte del Diavolo. Like many devil’s bridges in Europe, this one doesn’t go without a story. After years of constant failures to build this bridge, the Cividalesi made a deal with the devil. He would help build the bridge in exchange for the soul of the first person to walk across it. When the bridge was completed, the people of Cividale, mocking the devil, sent a cat (or dog depending on the version) across the bridge. Since then, the bridge has stayed put.

We continued our walk around the town before hitting the road on our way to Venice. But I could tell neither my mom nor I wanted to leave.

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The visit to Cividale has been one of the most meaningful and enjoyable trips I’ve made here in Europe. I would love to be able to go back and spend some more time and see family. It was so special being able to see my mom remember so many great memories of her grandparents. And, I too, could hear my great-grandma’s voice in all the people we saw around town. It had a feeling of nostalgia and familiarity, almost like being home.

Skiing aka The most terrifying thing I’ve done in Austria

Growing up I was a skater. I learned to skate when I was about 3 years old and never really stopped. I Figured Skated and played Hockey and that was really the extent of my winter activities (besides the occasional sledding outing). Skiing never really appealed to me. It looked like fun and all my friends did it. But I just never was that interested in trying it. Being in Austria, I felt (and still do feel) guilty for not being a skier. People come from all over the world to ski the many mountains and hills. I’ve been here for 3 winters now and have always said I should try it but never really pulled the trigger, until a few weeks ago.

Andrew had friends visiting from Alaska. They go skiing quite often and wanted to go while they were here. So after being pressured (they didn’t have to twist my arm that much), I decided to go with them. This was going to be my first time skiing and it was going to be in the Austrian Alps. Gulp!

We got to the mountain and got outfitted in all our gear. I felt confident walking to the lift. I had spent the night before watching some YouTube videos and thought it looked fairly easy. Once we started I could tell this was going to be a little more difficult than I had imagined. The concept of using edges was nothing new to me but the skis were proving to be difficult to control. I took a deep breath. Everything was going to be okay.

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We got to the top of the mountain. I tried my best to ski over to where one of the easy runs started. Once settled, I looked at what was around me. The views were stunning. Incredible. I had never seen mountains like this before. And definitely not from the top.

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But … the look down the mountain was steep. Everyone was flying by me. I could already feel myself working up a sweat. Another deep breath. I can do this, I thought. With that, I pointed my skis down the hill and pushed off. Immediately my body grew tense. I tried turning to stop. Pizza. Then once I started going the other way, I glided across the hill. French Fry. That’s all I needed to remember. Pizza, French Fry. I started to get the hang of it but then I would catch an edge or I couldn’t keep my legs together or I’d be too worried about the people behind me and down I’d go. I probably fell 5 times down my first run. When we got down to the first landing, I needed to take a break. Whew. That was tough. The next leg of the run went a lot better. The hill wasn’t as steep and I felt I could control my speed. It was starting to get fun! Next was a steeper hill and I actually got down it without falling! We made it to the chalet and grabbed some lunch.

After lunch, we decided that the only way down the mountain was to take an intermediate run. I had accidentally jumped on one the first time around and looking at the map, it didn’t look, well, too difficult. We started skiing down the first part. I fell a couple more times but was slowly getting the hang of it. It had taken me a little more than an hour to go down the first couple runs to the chalet. So when we got to where the chairlift could take us back down, I made up my mind that, no, I could make it down the rest of the way. It would take maybe 30 minutes, maybe. Boy, was I off. As soon as I started, I knew I probably made the wrong choice. But I did not want to have to hike back up to the lift. The only way back to the car and off these skis was down. And I wanted to make it off this mountain as soon as I could.The next leg was literally straight down. It had many twists and turns that took you on the edge of cliffs. It was terrifying.

After each switch back, I would take a break and watch all the skiers zipping by me. I tried not to panic at the sight of what the next 5 minutes were going to be like until I could reach another area to stop and take a breather. I fell a bit more than the first run and even popped off a ski. Finally I could see the parking lot. I could make it. It wasn’t that much further. At this point I had figured out how to actually stop and that really made all the difference. Now my french fries were actually pointing slightly down the mountain and not horizontal. I could feel my body relaxing and I was actually really starting to enjoy it!

At last we reached the end. On the drive home, I was exhausted but I was so proud that I had tried something I feared and did not give up. I think I could actually get the hang of this sport. Thankfully the hills near Linz aren’t crazy mountains. I am going to have to take a few lessons before I try to conquer those again!

Bayern München

Soccer is HUGE in Europe. Next to skiing in Austria, it is probably the second most popular sport. While there are pro teams here in Linz and elsewhere in Austria, nothing is as similar to the Bundesliga in Germany. We were lucky enough to get tickets just recently and catch a game.

I know nothing about soccer but I was excited to see such talented athletes play. Bayern München has won 24 national titles and 17 national cups. They are by far the most talented team in Germany.

The ride to Munich is about 2 1/2 hours. We took a fan bus with some of Andrew’s friends and made some stops along the highway to pick up other fans. When we pulled up to the stadium it was lit up in red for Bayern, and massive, and looked a bit like a space ship. The Allianz Arena holds 75,000 people. The night we went they had just over 71,000. The crazy thing was even with about 4,000 people missing, you weren’t able to tell.

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Of course we stopped by the fan shop and picked up some gear. The concessions sold traditional German foods; sausages, frankfurters, pretzels, and beer (cheap beer in comparison to most North American venues!) And we took our seats for the start of the game.

The one thing I absolutely love about European sports is the cheering and crowd participation. Even at Andrew’s hockey games, the fan clubs continue to sing cheers, pound on drums, and at times have whole sections of a stadium jumping up and down. During this soccer game, it was nothing different. The Bayern fan club sat opposite of us and the entire section was cheering and jumping the ENTIRE 90 minutes.

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And with that, Bayern won the game 2-0!

The other thing I love about European sports is the teams take the time after the game to thank their fans for coming. Most teams come out, as a whole, and wave to each sides of the stadium while the fans wave and cheer back. It really is something to see. And to top off the night there was a laser light show!

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It was such a unique experience. It kind of made me reconsider becoming a soccer fan … The next time we are able to get tickets, we will for sure be going!


New Year’s Traditions

Wait, it’s already February?! When did that happen? Between taking a short trip back home, to having my sister come out for a visit, and spending some much needed R&R with Andrew in the Austrian Alps, the month of January has just flown by! So … let’s back up.

This new year’s has probably been one of my favorites. We were invited to celebrate with a fellow teammate of Andrew and his family. They are both Austrian and over the past two years we have gotten to know them and enjoy spending time together and learning a little bit more of their Austrian culture. Usually for New Year’s, I’ve either celebrated at home with a bottle of champagne and Dick Clark’s countdown to watching the ball drop … or … I’ve gone out for a night on the town with my girlfriends, dancing and doing pretty much the same thing with the champagne and ball. This year was different.

We started with a Raclette dish for dinner. Similar to fondue, raclette is an electric grill, more or less. On the top, meats of your choosing are grilled. Underneath, cheese (typically raclette cheese) is melted. You can add a whole variety of things to the cheese. We had mushrooms, pineapple, potatoes, pickles, bacon bits, and other dipping sauces. After melting the cheese, you pour it out of the small pan onto your cooked meat. It was delicious!

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After eating way more than I should, we moved on to another tradition for New Year’s. We were each given a lead object. The objects are generally things that bring good fortune. With candles lit, we took turns melting our lead objects in a spoon. Once the lead was liquid, you would quickly dump it into a bowl of cold water. When the lead cooled and formed a shape, you would take it out. The shape gives you hints as to what awaits you in the New Year. We also got a New Year’s pig because, you know, pigs always bring good luck.

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As you can see, mine split in two. And I really have no idea what either resembled, still. Some of ours were a little more clearer than others. Mine wasn’t one of those. If I turn it around different ways, it starts to look like a palm tree with waves … a beach vacation this year, maybe? … or is that just my wishful thinking.

And of course New Year’s in Austria wouldn’t be complete without a fireworks show. Put on by yours truly. I got a little overzealous with actually being allowed to purchase what I consider illegal fireworks and went a tad bit crazy at the grocery store downstairs. Fireworks are one of my favorite things! And yes, the fireworks are sold in the grocery store. They had a handful of packages to choose from. Andrew and I selected the biggest ones, naturally. Between one failing to go airborne and another hitting the neighboring apartment buildings, I’d say it was a pretty good show!

Happy New Year!

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Happy Birthday!

So thankful I am able to spend my birthday with my sister, Laura. Just like when we were little🙂

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Krampus

Usually Krampus comes to Austria the 5th of December, before St. Nicholas comes (Dec. 6th). But yesterday, on New Year’s Day, Krampus came to the hockey game! I have seen them before on TV and have seen the masks they sell replicating them but have never witnessed Krampus in real life. There is really only one word to describe Krampus. Terrifying.

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Absolutely TERRIFYING.

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I could not imagine being a child and seeing this. This must be why all the Austrian children are the most well-behaved children I have ever seen.

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Wondering what Krampus is … Check out Christoph Waltz explaining the whole concept to Jimmy Fallon …

 

Christkindlmarkt(s)

Christmastime is always a favorite time of year for me. Although I get extremely homesick, Christmastime in Europe is very special. And I feel like it sort of makes up for it. When our time here in Austria, or anywhere in Europe ends, I know visiting the many Christkindlmarkts is going to be something I miss dearly.

Christkindlmarkts or Christmas markets are similar to a Farmer’s market. Different people selling an assortment of mostly Christmas related items set up shop in little huts in town squares. There are goods, food, and always a lot of glüwein. Linz has around 4-5 Christmas markets set up around town. The biggest one is in the Hauptplatz or the main town square. During the day you can go there and enjoy a little Christmas shopping and some pastry goods. At night, it is a great spot to grab some drinks, sausages, and enjoy the holiday season with friends.

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For the past 3 years, we try to travel to as many Christmas markets as we can. For the most part, every one sells the same things, ornaments, mittens, hats, things for the home, candles, oils, and other Christmas decor. This year we visited Vienna’s main Christkindlmarkt and the market at the Schönbrunn Palace. Vienna has some of the most beautiful Christkindlmarkts around.

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We also traveled to Salzburg. Last Christmas we visited Salzburg but went to a Christmas market outside of town. This visit was to the main one down by the Cathedral and Residence Square. It is now my favorite one I’ve visited. The ornaments were beautiful and the food was delicious. I, unfortunately, was too busy shopping to bother with any pictures.

Each year, I will look forward to taking out my ornaments and remembering all the wonderful memories.