Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snow in Prata!

It is unusual for us to get snow in Pordenone and the towns surrounding it, but we had our first snow! We woke up to 3 - 4 inches of snow on the ground. Having lived in Phoenix, Emma was completely confused when we opened up the door and wasn't sure if she wanted to go out. Loving snowballs as she does, it only took throwing a few to get to outside.

We took a walk through town to admire to snow. Can't say I have ever seen a city bus with snow chains on it before! And PS. marble is slippery when covered in snow!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Festa della Santa Lucia

With another gorgeous sunny morning upon us, we took Emma for a walk into our town center. The Festa della Santa Lucia was going on in our main street, Via Cesare Battisti. There were homemade handicrafts, booths will antiques, hot mulled wine, cheese, and other foods from the region. Christmas Carolers were singing carols in front of our church. The feast is in honor of the patron saint and Lucia rides in on a carriage at the end of the festival to distribute sweets to the children.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Attempt #2 to Cross Country Ski

It was quite chilly this Wednesday morning, but with hot chocolate in hand, I headed out at 7am to meet Tim to head up to Piancavallo. We were going cross country skiing for the second time this week. Unlike Sunday, we had the mountain to ourselves. I strapped on my skis again and did a few practice laps in the practice area. It had rained up on the mountain and then gotten cold, so there was a nice layer of ice over the snow.

We headed out on one of the trails and I mastered the art of stopping myself by throwing myself to the right to fall down. I was doing okay, even with the icy trail, until we got to the loop turn around. Here, there weren't any tracks on the trail to help guide me and I had a pretty good wipe out going down this hill. With a sprained ankle, I managed to do pretty well on the way back. That wipe out had been my 5th and last fall on the 3 mile loop. I even figured out how to get up the hills without skiing backwards down them!

My efforts were rewarded with piping hot pizzas at San Giorgio's in Aviano for lunch. Feeling beaten up won't keep me from trying to master cross country skiing!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Playing in the snow at Piancavallo

With a good amount of snow on Piancavallo, we headed up on a Sunday to try out my new cross country skis, an early Christmas present. Tim had been up to the mountain a couple times and no one had been around, so we brought Emma with us. The parking lot was packed and the cross country ski area was in full swing when we arrived. We took Emma off and ran around in the snow with her for a bit. She loves trying to catch snowballs!

With the pup tired out, I strapped on a pair of skis for the first time and tried to get the hang of push/glide in the cross country practice area. Tim convinced me to try out a shorter trail that loops around. We started out by going down a small hill. I somehow made it down the hill without falling but that was not at all the case as we continued on. I also didn't master the art of going uphill either. I would find myself shooting backwards down the hill. But we eventually did make it back to the car. I'll give it a shot on another day.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Venice at Night

Wanting to do a little Christmas shopping and hoping to see Venice decked out in its Christmas best, we took the train in mid-afternoon. The sun begins to set around 3:30pm now, so we had just enough time to pick up some pashminas, blown glass jewelry, and to purchase a candle for ourselves. The candle maker was dipping the candles as we shopped and we got a great keepsake!

The sun was shining and the sky was so clear. It was a beautiful sunset illuminating St. Mark's Square with the sun's golden rays. There wasn't a tree as we expected, but the walkways surrounding the square were trimmed with Christmas lights. I even found 30€ just lying on the ground!

We topped off the trip into Venice with dinner outside at Caffe Centrale along the Grand Canal. We did a tourist special and each got a glass of wine, an appetizer, salad, and entree for only 15€ each. It was delicious!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Not So Traditional Thanksgiving...

Since we took advantage of the 4-day weekend to traverse the "Eastern Block" (Vienna, Bratislava, & Prague), today was finally Thanksgiving Day at our house! It took many trips to the Base Commissary as they were seemingly out of this or that each time I went, but with all the ingredients finally on hand, I was ready to make us a feast.

I have never been so appreciative of my double oven, which of course resides in our house in Phoenix. I truly know what it means to literally cook all day long now. Trying to make a feast in the world's smallest oven requires patience and strategic timing as I could only make one thing at a time.

We had all the fixings: turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, green bean caserole, pumpkin pie, and a bottle of wine from the vineyard down the road. It was delicious and I am grateful for my wonderful husband and the great opportunities we have to travel. God bless!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

BMW Museum, Munich, Germany

The BMW Museum is located in the sprawling BMW complex in Munich, Germany complete with show rooms, restaurants, cafes, and even an ice climbing wall. I learned that BMW actually started out making airplane engines in 1916. Their first road vehicle was a motorcycle in 1923, followed by cars in 1928.

The museum showcases more than 90 years of BMW heritage. The BMW 3/15PS from 1929 was the first car released.

The first BMW Roadster was produced in 1930 & only weighed 410kg.

The 1995 Z3 driven only by Pierce Brosnan in James Bond: Golden Eye and the Z8 also only driven by Brosnan in The World is Not Enough are both on display.

The 1955 BMW lsetta is probably one of the cutest cars I have ever seen!

A special exhibition of concept cars currently occupies the second floor of the museum. To see our online photo album of the BMW Museum, visit:

Prague, Czech Republic

Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic and situated on the River Vltava in central Bohemia. We were first off to Prague Castle, which according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is the largest coherent castle complex in the world, with an area of almost 70,000 m². Castle Guards stand in British fashion at the Castle gates and changing of the Guard takes place every hour.

Located within the walls of Prague Castle, the mighty Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral seems to rise up above you and dominates the skyline from the city below. It contains the tombs of many Bohemian kings, most notable Charles IV, who became the Holy Roman Emperor in 1355. Inside the Cathedral, a small door with seven locks, in the south-western corner of the Chapel of St. Wenceslas, leads to the Crown Chamber containing the Bohemian Coronation Jewels.

A life-size Nativity made out of straw stands at the side of the Cathedral and a grand Christmas tree rises tall in the courtyard at the rear of the Cathedral.

From Prague Castle, we made our way across the Charles Bridge toward Old Town. The Dancing House, the nickname for the Nationale-Nederladen building, in downtown Prague was built in 1996. It was originally named Fred and Ginger for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers because the house vaguely resembles a pair of dancers. Its contemporary design certainly does stand out against the Baroque and Gothic styles of Prague.
In the Old Town Square, a bustling Christmas market was framed by the Tyn Cathedral and St. Nicholas Church. Here we sampled Czech sausages and ham from the market fare as the daylight faded and the Christmas lights illuminated the Square. The famed Prague Astronomical Clock is also in the Square. The Orloj is composed of three main components: the astronomical dial, representing the position of the Sun and Moon in the sky and displaying various astronomical details; "The Walk of the Apostles", a clockwork hourly show of figures of the Apostles and other moving sculptures; and a calendar dial with medallions representing the months.

After wandering around the city, we stopped for dinner at Staromacek near the Old Town Sqaure. I warmed myself up with a hot mulled wine and had Kralovake biftecky, which was a Bohemian specialty of beef steaks with cream, cranberries, mushrooms, and ham. The cream was actually a sweet cream, like a whipped cream that topped everything. It was served with croquettes, or mashed potatoes rolled into a ball and deep fried. Tim had the pot roast prepared with beer.  I would never have thought to put whipped cream on a beef steak, but it was absolutely delicious!

After dinner, we strolled along the Vltava, admiring the views of the Prague Castle lit up on the hill. Also off in the distance was a tower which appeared to look like the Eiffel Tower. We were on a mission to find it! We drove all around trying to get close, finally realizing that you cannot drive up to the tower. We finally found that you can go up by the Petrin funicular, a tram-railway opened in 1891 that takes you up the hill. The funicular has three stops: Újezd (at the bottom of the hill), Nebozízek (the middle station), and Petřín (at the top of the hill).

The Petrinska Rozhledna, built in 1891, is a 60 metre high steel framework tower, which strongly resembles the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Although it is much shorter than the Eiffel Tower, it stands atop a sizable hill, Petrin, so the top is actually at a higher altitude than that of the Eiffel Tower.

To see all of our pictures of Prague, visit our online photo album at:

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bratislava, Slovakia

Arriving in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, was like taking a trip back in time to the 1980's Soviet Union. Bratislava, much like Budapest, is divided by the River Danube following through the middle of the city. Driving from Vienna, we came upon the rows and rows of the Communist era gray concrete apartment buildings (look closely in the background for the rows of buildings). Some were painted multicolor now, others left to their original state. Bratislava and Vienna are the two European capital cities closest together at only 60km (37 miles) apart. It is truly amazing that the two cities can only be one hour drive, yet worlds apart.

Crossing the river over the New Bridge, I didn't get the immediate impression the other side of the river was much better. Our hotel was located on the hillside literally next to Bratislava Castle, so we hiked up the hill to the Castle. The site was inhabited as far back as Celtic and Great Moravian times and stands on the hill of the Little Carpathians directly above the Danube river. The Castle is currently under reconstruction but does house the expositions of the Slovak National Museum. A Baroque building which was formerly a stable now houses the famous restaurant, Restauracia Hrad, where we enjoyed a lunch of Slovakian hamburgers and pommes frites.

We headed back down the hill to the Main Square, where the Christmas Market was just opening for opening day. An Advent tradition, the market offered Christmas cabbage soup, the unique taste of smoked sausages, dried mushrooms, dried plums, and red paprika. The scents of hot mulled wine drifted around the square. This market was far more crowded than the Vienna market, making it nearly impossible to push through the crowds.

We came upon the statue of Rubberneck on Panska and Sedlarska street. No other city in the world has a statue sticking out of manhole. Rubberneck has lost his head twice due to careless drivers, so the city decided to help him by erecting a road sign to warn drivers. (Look across the street from him to see a Communist era building in the historic center.)

Celebrating the 20 year anniversary of the 1989 Velvet Revolution, the overthrow of the Communist government, Hviezdoslav Square displayed a history of Communist times of Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia through pictures. The square is also home to the eclectic Reduta building in Rococo, Baroque, and Art-nouveau styles (where the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra is housed) and the Slovak National Theater.

On our way to the Church of St. Elizabeth, we stopped at Deemer's Teehaus, where I purchased black cherry black tea and lemongrass and apple roobios tea.

The Church of St. Elizabeth is also known as the Blue Church because of the color of its facade, mosaics, majolicas, and blue-glazed roof. The mosaic on the facade depicts the miracle of St. Elizabeth, and her relics are kept behind the main altar. We did pay another visit to the Blue Church in the morning before leaving because the church was so stunning in the dark, that we simply had to see it in the light.

Exhausted from walking all over Vienna in the morning, hiking up the hill to the Bratislava Castle, and traipsing all through the Old Town, we decided to relax for awhile at the Pulitzer. Tim had a cold Slovakian beer and I, having had Starbucks in Vienne, tried the Vienna coffee.  The Vienna coffee is served in a tall glass and topped with whipped cream - a lot of whipped cream! Even Tim, who is not a coffee drinker, enjoyed the sweet taste of the Vienna coffee. Lingering there and letting our tired feet rest, we had another round and ordered food. Tim sampled the steak with Argentine sauce and roasted potatoes.

Refreshed, we headed back up the hill for a nighttime view and fireworks display over the city from Bratislava Castle. Bratislava is an interesting city and I am glad I didn't let my first impressions scare me away!

To view all of our Bratislava pictures, visit:

Friday, November 27, 2009

Vienna, Austria

Vienna, or Wien in German, is the capital of the Republic of Austria. Blessed with sunshine and a clear blue sky, we got checked into our hotel and headed out to explore the city. The Museum Quarter was a short 10 minute walk from our hotel and the heart of the city. Formally the Imperial Stables which housed the horses and carriage of the Royal Court, the collection of old and new style buildings are now home to several museums such as the Leopold Museum, the Natural Histories Museum, and the twin Fine Arts Museum.

A small Christmas Market was open in the Maria-Theresien-Platz Square adjacent to the MQ. The Maria-Theresien-Platz memorial dominates the square. The Empress is seated on her throne, holding the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713 in her left hand. She is surrounded by major personages of her day: the standing figures are State Chancellor Kaunitz, Prince Liechtenstein, Count Haugwitz and her physician, van Swieten, while Generals Daun, Laudon, Traun and Khevenhüller are on horseback. The high reliefs depict illustrious figures from the fields of politics, economics and the arts, including Haydyn, Gluck and the child prodigy, Mozart.

From here, we continued down the Ringroad to the Rathaus, or Town Hall. Built between 1872 and 1883, it is home to the mayor and City Council of the City of Vienna. On the top of the tower is the Rathausmann, one of the symbols of Vienna. Home to Vienna's largest Christmas Market, it is only fitting that the Rathaus is decorated as an Advent Calendar.

The beginnings of the Viennese Christmas Market date back to more than 7 centuries! In 1296, the emperor Albrecht I granted the privilege of organizing a "Dezembermarkt" (December Market) in order to ensure the supply for the urban population. In the 16th century, today's "Christkindlmarkt" was named "Thomasmarkt" and took place around Christmas time and New Year's Eve. Goods such as glass, leather, books, and toys can be purchased at the market. Most enjoyable for us was sampling all the delicious food! We tried chocolate covered bananas, Vienna sausages, and hot amaretto punch which was served in a collectible mug.

Carrying our steaming amaretto punches down the street, we stopped to enjoy them while admiring the setting sun over the Votivkirche, or Votiv Church. The Votivkirche is made out of white sandstone and has to be constantly renovated and protected from air-pollution and acid rain, which tends to colour and erode the soft stone.

As night fell upon us (at only 4pm, mind you), the lights of the Christmas Market came alive for a truly spectacular scene. We ventured once again through the market and up the Ringroad to the Austrian Parliament building. The Athena Fountain (1893) stands in front, the four lying figures at the foot of Athena are representations of the four most important rivers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They represent at the front the Danube and Inn, and in the back part, the Elbe and Vltava rivers.

We visited the Vienna Natural Histories Museum, which houses zoology, botanic, and mineral exhibitions. Darwin's Evolution is a special exhibit on display to which I paid special attention since my History of Ideas course was discussing this topic at the time.

After a quick cat nap, we ventured back out for dinner. We found Neubauschenke where Tim sampled the Wiener Schnitzel, a cutlet of veal that is pounded flat, coated in flour, egg and breadcrumbs, and fried in clarified butter, with German potato salad. In Austria, the term Wiener Schnitzel is protected by law, and any schnitzel called by that name has to be made from veal. I had the Cordon Blue, a slice of Wiener Schnitzel rolled and filled with cheese and ham. Everything was delicious! Tim wasn't too fond of the potato salad but I liked the sweet, vinegary taste and polished it off for him.

The morning brought a misty fog and brisk chill. After a stop in Starbucks (yay for Starbucks in Vienna!), we took a walk to Stephansdom, the most recognizable symbol in the city. It stands on the ruins of two previous churches and is 107 meters (350 ft) long, 40 meters (131 ft) wide, and 136 meters (445 ft) tall at its highest point. Soot and other forms of air pollution accumulating on the church have given it a black color, but recent restoration projects have again returned the building to its original white.

Continuing on down Der Graben, one of the most famous streets in Vienna, The Pestsäule (Plague Statue) holds court. In 1679, Vienna was visited by one of the last big plague epidemics. Fleeing the city, Emperor Leopold I vowed to erect a mercy column if the epidemic would end. In the same year, a provisional wooden column was inaugurated, showing the Holy Trinity on a Corinthian column together with nine sculpted angel (for the Nine Choirs of Angels).

Turning off Der Graben, Michaelerplatz is located at the old gates to Imperial Palace. Here Romans Ruins were found during excavation from 1990 - 1991. 

View all of our pictures at:  

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Taking Advantage of a Long Layover in London

When British Airways canceled part of my flight to the US, they booked a very early flight from Venice to London Gatwick to remedy the situation. This left me with 9 hours from when I arrived until my flight to Chicago from London Heathrow. Since I had to transport myself from one airport to the other and had so much time, I decided to take advantage!

I took the Gatwick Express to Victoria Station and stowed my luggage. Victoria is conveniently located a short 5 minute walk to Buckingham Palace. I was able to pick up the red line for the famous hop on, hop off buses here. These are great since the ticket is valid for 24 hours and you can hop on and off at any of the stops as often as you like. To stay on and complete the loop takes a little more than 2 hours.

My first stop was Hyde Park and the Marble Arch. The Marble Arch was originally designed in 1827 as the main entrance to Buckingham Palace but was moved in 1851 because it was too narrow for the grandest coaches. Next I was off to the London Eye by way of Oxford Street and Trafalgar Square. The London Eye is a 443 feet high observation wheel that looks like an enclosed Ferris wheel, which was built in 2000 as part of London's millennium celebrations. It takes 30 minutes round trip and on a clear day, which this was not, you should be able to see for about 25 miles!

Waterloo Bridge offers what Londoners will tell you is one of the best views of London. You will see the London Eye framing Big Ben. The Thames River divides the two parts, the City of London and Westminster, which make up London.

St. Paul's Cathedral was completely rebuilt about the Great Fire of London in 1666. The 360 feet high dome is the second largest in the world, only after St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The tomb of Florence Nightingale rests inside.

The Tower Bridge was completed in 1894 and is raised for large ships to pass through. The machinery that raises the bridge was powered by steam until 1976. Even though it is a bridge, it is insured by the famous Llyod's of London as a ship. Just past the Tower Bridge lies the Tower of London, which has served as a fortress, palace, and prison. The Crown Jewels are housed in The Jewel House and the White Tower, dating from 1070 stands tall in the middle of the fortress.

I learned that Big Ben is not the name of the world-famous, four faced clock but rather the 14-ton bell inside the tower. Big Ben stands proudly next to the Houses of Parliament, which are the largest in the world. The clock has continuously kept the exact time for the UK since it was set in motion in 1859. The famous Westminster Abbey is the resting place of many of Britain's great monarchs and is half church, hald museum.

Completing a whirlwind tour of London in just a few hours, I was happy to enjoy Starbucks and a quick lunch while people watching in Victoria. I definitely want to go back!