30 March 2012

It's my birthday today....

Today I celebrate my 42nd birthday and through all the wonderful birthday wishes from family and friends worldwide, I take the moment to reflect on stuff. So here is what I've come up with.

Very recently I learned that no matter how emotionally balanced I think I am, inconsiderate people still have a way of getting under my skin and getting me riled. Thankfully, I process by myself and direct my communication diplomatically as opposed to blowing like a volcano which is what I used to do in a previous life. So I'm half way there in this learning process.

The truth absolutely hurts because it means one party will be disappointed. Here is how it goes. You don't want to hurt/disappoint the other party so you work around the truth so you are not actually telling a lie but it is also not confronting nor demoralising and doesn't necessarily damage the relationship. The other party isn't aware, they just take the excuse at face value, they aren't taking it personally and life just goes on. Diplomatic skills in this regard are essential but never easy. Many say "but you should just tell me truth", yet they are never really prepared for the brutality of it, because at the end of the day you are still saying something that the other person isn't going to like. Like it or not the world spins easier when diplomacy is practiced and relationships usually stay intact.

I have travelled regularly since my 30s but have upped the ante in the last 12 months and whilst I have always known I love travelling, I can confirm that I am officially addicted to it. I barely get off the plane at home and am already planning the next trip. Which is probably why I am boarding a plane on Monday night and going to Venice after just returning from Austria eight weeks ago and have the next four trips already figured out.

The greatest achievement in my life is my daughter. Every day is a challenge and a marvel. I notice each time she catapults developmentally and I love being here to experience it. She taught me how to love butterflies, princesses, wild animals and basically anything that is a wonder to her becomes a wonder to me.

My siblings are a gift. We drive each other crazy but the foundational love and bond is strong and impenetrable. My mother died when I was a baby and my father, well let's just say we have an estranged position. I can live with that but I can't live without my siblings. They keep me grounded when needed, they are excited for my adventures and when we are together it's just a blessing.

My closest friends are far and wide getting on with their lives but I know the moment I show up on their doorstep I am just as important to them then as I was the day I left. No country, no ocean can separate the purity of our friendship. Months may go by without a word but we each know that at a drop of a hat we are there for one another.

Throughout it all my husband is the rock. He knows when I go off the rails and has this innate ability to soothe me and make me feel better. I can curl up in his lap for 5 minutes and he heals all my wounds with a cuddle and no words.

I despise all domestic household chores and in a country where domestic helpers are the norm it is a constant psychological battle whether I should have one or not. I am currently on the fence.

Through online community groups, I have met several new people who are like-minded, particularly in the world of craft and cooking. Here I can share my crafty (and that includes cooking - that's an artform too) successes but also tribulations with difficult projects. Friendships have developed that would have never occured if the good ole' world wide web didn't exist. So thanks to the internet for the expanded world it has provided.

I have spent 15 years in part-time studies to build and progress my career but reached a point when I realised that it just wasn't what I wanted anymore. Maybe it was mid-life crisis, I turned 40 then, or maybe just being around for my daughter turned out to be a bigger and more important deal. I don't regret my studies, I use it for my personal life anyway (studies was in the world of finance if you are wondering) and it widened my mental horizons. My mother-in-law always told me that "education and travelling is never a waste of money". Right on. I believe it and live it.

A year ago I was found by a cousin back in Romania. Her attempts at befriending me on Facebook failed a couple of times as I didn't recognise her name and simply just ignored it. Eventually I had the common sense to ask my brother if he knew anything about it. After some searching it was confirmed and we hooked up on Skype to talk. It was further confirmed when she held up childhood photos of us that were in her possession. It turned out that a couple of years ago she promised her dying mother that she will look for the three cousins (that being me and my 2 siblings) that she never met. What can I say... thanks Facebook for making this miracle happen.

Do I have any regrets. Yep, too many cakes at Laurent Cafe. Played havoc with my hips and waistline. My brother tells me to get my act together in the way of fitness. I am listening because he's right.

When my sister said "You're not coming back to Australia, are you?" it stopped me in my tracks and I concluded that I was a global citizen. I will go wherever the work is. John and I are no longer limited by the city we grew up in. We are only limited by our imagination. Since the world is our oyster, we look forward to experiencing all that it has to offer. Where next, I don't know, but as the gypsy in me and a preference for a nomadic lifestyle, I just think "Bring it on...". Just a small caveat here though... it can't be in any war ravaged or politically unstable environment. I still have a child to consider first.

Thank you to all who know me and for making my life such a wonderfully rich experience.

29 March 2012

Hohensalzburg Fortress, Austria - Day 15

An imposing fortress situated on a rocky peak 524m above Salzburg's Old town, Hohensalzburg has a history spanning 1000 years. Built in the 11th century during the wars between the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy, the fortress was used as a refuge for the archbishops of Salzburg whenever they felt threatened.

Over the centuries and through changing sovereigns, the Fortress was expanded, artillery towers added, fortification walls built turning it into an impenetrable stronghold. By the 16th century the Fortress was taking on the character of military barracks and was no longer used as substitute residence for the sovereign.

In 1800 both the city and the fortress were surrendered to the French, however over the next 16 years it would have its dominion moved between the French, Austrians and Bavarians until Salzburg was finally incorporated into the Austrian Empire.

Always prepared for defence, the Fortress became the home of the Imperial and Royal Infantry Regiment No 59 until 1861 when Salzburg was declared a civilian city instead of a military city and the fortress was no longer required to play a major role.  Used as a military detention centre, barracks, transport centre, the Fortress ultimately became a popular tourist attraction.

In 1892 a fortress funicular was built to ferry tourists from town and a peaceful co-existence between the military and tourists flourished until the end of World War II when the Austrian army no longer existed and the barracks functions ceased to exist.

As the property of Austria, the fortress was leased to the state of Salzburg in 1953 for 99 years. Entrance fees finance the Fortress' upkeep and renovation programmes.

The impressive Fortress on its rocky peak.

As military history enthusiasts, John and I were very excited about our visit to the Fortress.  What we hadn't anticipated was the funicular to be closed and for us to have to ascend the 524m on foot.  Trinity took the stairs in her stride and marched on up finding a game in her every step.  I didn't think the climb was that amusing and with a huff and a puff I soldiered on.  I wished for the good ole' days when my fitness was something worth talking about.

The final trudge was at a 45 degree angle and I was relieved when we got to the ticketing counter until we entered and found that a further and steeper climb was still required to reach the Keep's main entrance.

We explored courtyards, the chapel, Keep, private apartments, bastions and absorbed the magnificent aerial view of Salzburg.

Ring wall around the Keep with a view of the main gate.

Small courtyard.

Chapel St George.

Chapel of St George's high altar (1776).

The tour of the Keep began at the gate room, an elongated hall erected between the ring wall and the Keep.  A broad stairway of red marble led to the first storey where on the east side a small retaining wall from the Roman era along with some artefacts were discovered.

The second storey consisted of the archbishops living quarters.  On display were middle to upper class household items including the archbishops furniture and the "golden treasure".  The treasure consisted of 78 gold coins which were accidentally discovered during restoration works. Minted between 1350 and 1430, the history of the coins and who it belonged to remain unknown.

Glazed tiled oven exemplifying the artistic flair
of 16th century potters.

Household item.

Carved pine box-chest (c1500)

In 1998 another treasure was uncovered when a triple-arched window was discovered.  The colourful frescos on the arches are as bright today as they were some 800 years ago when they were first painted.

Arched windows (c1300).

In the hall on the second floor, a central beam supports an intricately worked wooden ceiling and contains a display of pole weapons and armour.  Weapons such as spears and pikes were used for thrust; hellebarde with its axe to cut through armour plate; and hook to pull the opponent away or knock him down.  On the field helmet, breastplate and arm guards were used to protect them against injury whilst maintaining mobility.

The development of gunpowder in the late Middle Ages gave way to rifles starting with the flintlock. Effective in close combat the handgun was primarily used by riders and replaced the lance, battleaxe and poleaxe.

Red marble figure on the ceiling supports.

Field armour and weapons display.

A unique handgun with a small axe on the opposite end.

Moving onto the third storey we enter the archbishops' private apartments.  The richly decorated "Golden Hall" is a sight to behold.  The dark blue ceiling is embellished with gold discs that gives the impression of a starry night.  In order to expand the width of the room, four twisted marble pillars were installed to hold the ceiling aloft and a loggia was added on.

Golden Hall with the blue ceiling and marble columns.

The rest of the apartments maintain the same level of rich decoration.  A striking tiled oven, commissioned in 1501, is displayed in the Golden Chamber.  Used for heating, each tile on the oven is uniquely designed, creating a work of art.  The bottom third depicts fruits and flowers, the middle is composed of large panels each depict indepentent artwork and the top depicts saints.

Golden Chamber.

The tiled oven.

Detail of a tiled panel on the stove.

Finishing our Fortress tour we took an alternative route back to town, ever so grateful for the downhill walk. We strolled through town until dark and then retired early as the next day we were off to Graz.

Trini and I frolicking as we depart the fortress.

Having way too much fun.

Just one more photo.....

Salzburg, Austria - Day 14

Following an hour's drive from Filzmoos,we arrived at Hotel Goldener Hirsch, situated on the longest shopping strip in the old town of Salzburg. The hotel dates back to 1407 and throughout its 600 years of history it has been an inn until the mid-1900s when it was privately acquired and turned into a five star establishment. The interior reflects more of a hunting lodge, characterized by the jumping deer embroidered into the linen, deer heads decorating the walls and filled with local antique furniture which the patron collected over the years.

A UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site the city of Salzburg is divided by the Salzach River with the old historic town on one side and the new town on the other. Mostly pedestrianized, the old town is a combination of narrow streets and large squares. It is filled with churches, museums and high-end retailers.

Rooftops of Salzburg's Old town.

Retailers' signs on one of the longest and busiest streets in Salburg's Old Town.

With Mozart having spent his first 17 years here, the town is rampant with all things Mozart, be it Mozart Cafe, chocolate, museum, house, concerts, bridge and so on. Of course with Sound of Music having put Salzburg on the map in the 1960s, you will also find Sound of Music tours and theatre plays. Most surprising was the high quantity of retailers dedicated to traditional folk garb for both children and adults alike.

All things Mozart.

Child's folk dress.

The outstanding feature in Salzburg is Fortress Hohensalzburg which proudly stands on a rocky outcrop some 524m above the town.

In dire need to change Singaporean dollars we were somewhat taken aback by the local bank teller who was first checking that our 100 dollar notes were legit and secondly whether he was allowed to actually purchase them. Not a common currency for exchange the bank teller did some more checking for counterfeit signs, whilst John and I are wondering if we should start feeling like criminals or not.  I offered my passport in order to prove that we are genuine and after a third check for the legitimacy of the currency, the teller finally acquired permission to do business with us. 

Emerging from the bank we headed straight for the rows of horses and carriages to fulfil on a promise to Trini.  With excitement and delight in Trini's eyes we enjoyed a half hour ride in an open carriage drawn by two horses with blankets draped across our legs. It felt so authentic, so European and so old world.  Being a first experience for all three of us it made it extra special.

John settling Trini into the carriage.

One of the major attractions in town is the Dom Cathedral. An imposing church, it was first built in the 8th century and completely rebuilt after a fire in 1628 in Baroque architecture. Built to accommodate 10,000 worshippers (more than the town's population), the interior of this church is breathtaking. It is a compilation of frescoes, sculptures, a main organ and four smaller ones. Sculptures of the patron saints decorate the facade of the church. Here I lit a candle in memory of my deceased mother.  Explaining to Trini what I was doing, she very much wanted to light her own candle for the grandma she never had the chance to meet.

Dom Cathedral

Trini getting friendly with the cherub.

Dom Cathedral's altar.

Stunningly detailed fresco.

On a whim, I entered the Franciscan Church, which according to our travel guide, as a Romanesque mixed with Gothic architecture is vastly out of place in Baroque Salzburg. Hence my curiosity and need to take a peek. I was not disappointed, particularly with the presbytery's tall tower and star vault.

Star vault.

Following a coffee and cake pitstop, we take on the local toy store. A double storey building, we oohed and aaahed at the different collections of toys. Of course Barbie, Thomas the Tank and Lego were readily available. We found our favorite Schleich collection of princesses, fairies and dinosaurs and were pleased to find items that are not available in Singapore or Australia. We added a couple of travel jigsaw puzzles of Snow White and a little princess trinket box for our very own Princess TinTin.

Satisfied with her play time at the Thomas table, flying pteranodons, fighting T-Rexs and having her dolly moments, we ambled across the river on the footbridge and took a short walk around the main sites of new town.

Here we wondered through Makart square where the luxurious Hotel Bristol with it's Baroque facade resides opposite another of Mozart's homes. In the northeast corner is the Roman influenced architecture of the Holy Trinity church, dated late 17th century. The sculptures of Faith, Love, Hope and the Church crown the facade of the building.

Old town Salzburg with Fortress Hohensalzburg in the background.

Dinner in the hotel's restaurant was an exquisite experience. Waited on by silver service staff, we indulged in gravy topped eye fillet with parsley potatoes and vegetables and crispy young duckling cooked to perfection (crispy skin and super moist meat). Our meals were accompanied by Austrian red wine, which we have been drinking throughout our trip. Typically rouge in colour and softer on the palate as opposed to the deep red wines we are usually accustomed to.

Tomorrow we look forward to exploring Fortress Hohensalzburg.

26 March 2012

Filzmoos, Austria - Days 9-13

With a little regret for we very much loved Vienna we depart for Filzmoos.  A taxi ride delivers us to the Westbahnhof (West Railway Station) where we depart on a fast train to Salzburg.  Without realising it we arrived with just enough time to catch an earlier train.

With only 3 minutes before the train left we rushed onto the first class carriage and found that we had to traipse through 4 carriages pulling 2 suitcases, a hand luggage and a child through aisles that were barely wider than our suitcases in order to find some seats together.  It didn't help that we constantly had to ask other travellers to put their elbows in, watch out for their knees, get out of the aisles so we could get through and what felt like a lot of judgemental stares (paranoia set in for sure).  Needless to say we were quite frazzled, sweating profusely with our winter coats on in 23 degrees internal temperature and a 3 years old busting our thinly-veiled patience.

Finding two seats together was impossible so forget finding 3 seats together.  Finally a young man gave up his seat and we were finally able to settle down with two seats together which meant that we had to keep swapping holding Trini on our laps.  Thankfully after a few stops, the train was slowly emptying and we were eventually able to spread out and enjoy the remainder of our journey.

The first hour just vanished mostly because we were still unfrazzling and calming ourselves down.  By the second hour we started enjoying the scenery and the ride, even though I swore we would travel first class from Salzburg to Graz.  Four hours on a train? We are doing it in style.  Anyway, the rest of our trip went without much consequence.

A picturesque, snow covered village in a valley, Filzmoos is approximately 45 minutes east of Salzburg. With no public transport to take us to Filzmoos we were limited to catching a cab at a cost of A$190.  I guess we could complain about it but since we had no alternative, we just absorbed the cost and had a great taxi ride to the village.

We chose to stay at a traditional Austrian guesthouse, which whilst a little removed from the village centre, actually turned out to be a blessing.  Mrs Gappmaier, the hostess was a lovely Austrian with limited English but engaging nonetheless and very welcoming. We were accommodated on the 3rd floor in a 2 bedroom apartment with gorgeous views.  The up and down the stairs 3 floors certainly kept us fit, along with the regular walks through the snow to and from the village.

Breakfast was a combination of fresh bread rolls, cold cuts, cheese, jams, yoghurt, perfectly boiled eggs and loads and loads of strong coffee.

Throughout our stay it snowed every day.  We spent our time exploring, buying new ski gear for future skiing trips and John started the basics in teaching Trini how to ski.  She was a mixture of excitement and trepidation, frustration and desire.  We finished off on one of the longer beginner runs, which really equates to an Aussie intermediate ski run, three times the length.

Tandem skiing with John, Trini just wanted faster and faster.  Not so easy on daddy who many a times had to carry her full weight.  What should have taken about 20 minutes downhill, took us nearly an hour.  Needless to say we were done for and the lifts closed.  By 9pm the lights were out and we slept for 11 hours straight.

We woke up on our last day to a spectacular morning.  Deep blue skies, bright white snow cover and sunshine galore.  Here we had an opportunity to photograph hot air balloons ascending the skies and the peaks of Bischofsmutze Mountain (loosely translated as Bishop's Mitre which is referring to the shape of the peak).

On our return to Salzburg we enjoyed breathtaking views of snow covered mountain peaks, what looked like death defying ski slopes, Fortress Hohenwerfen and electric buses.

Filzmoos may be a small out of the way location but it is definitely a worthwhile experience either in the winter for family skiing or the summer for hiking or mountain climbing.

Panoramic views.

Liver dumpling soup deep with flavour.

The daily walk to the village centre for lunch or dinner.

Tandem skiing with daddy.

Feeling like I'm on top of the world.

Trini's first sleigh ride

Bishop's Mitre Mountain.

23 March 2012

Walk Around Vienna, Austria - Day 8

Finally the day before we were due to depart the sun has come out and we could explore the beautiful architecture and cathedrals in the inner city of Vienna.

This blog is a photojournal of a great day out.


Statdpark is Vienna's city park and directly across the street from the Marriott Hotel where we stayed.

Our little munchkin loving the low branches she got to hang off.

Gilded bronze monument of famous composer Johan Strauss. 
Unveiled in 1921 it is framed by a marble relief.

Karlskirche (St Charles Church)

A stunning baroque church flanked by two columns and topped with an ellipsoid dome is all the more fascinating on the inside.  On the right of the interior is a glass encased lift.  An unusual feature to see in a church but it gave the visitor the first half of the ride to the cupola which is at 90m.  The next 45m was accessed by a further 120 steps.  Inside the cupola the viewer had the divine pleasure of a panoramic bird's eye view of Vienna.

The frescoes are being restored hence the lift and stairs but the best part was seeing the frescoes up close.

Karlskirche.  Bird's eye view from the cupola.

The altar portraying the ascension of St Charles.

Painter Johan Rottmayr captures the intercession of St Charles.

The oddly out of place lift.

Playground near Karlskirche

Trini had an amazing time here.  It was wet, it was dirty and we just plain didn't care.

Vienna Secession Building (aka Union of Austrian Artists)

The Secession building is an exhibition hall originally built in 1897 to represent the new Secession movement.  Interested in exploring art outside the academic tradition, Gustav Klimt and fellow artists, sculptors and architects resigned from the Association of Austrian Artists to establish the Secession group.  A white building with a gold dome atop it, the Secession's motto is written above the entrance: "To every age its art, to art its freedom".

Cafe Museum 

Opened in 1899, the Cafe Museum was exceptionally well located.  Surrounded by the Academy of Fine Arts, the Secession and the nearby Opera House, the cafe was a popular spot for musicians and artists.

Staatsoper (Opera House)

The Staatsoper was initially considered unimpressive as it seemed to lack the grandeur of other Viennese buildings.  The public reaction so adversely affected the interior designer that he committed suicide and the architect died shortly after of a heart attack.  Sadly neither of the designers saw the completion of the building.

Partial destruction during World War II gave the Austrians an opportunity to consider whether it should be restored or demolished and rebuilt.  Restoration was the decisive result.

Cafe Oper Wien (Opera House Cafe)

After chasing pigeons near the Staatsoper and having daddy spin Trini round and round in circles it was time for a coffee and cake pitstop at the Cafe Oper Wien.  A narrow and long cafe, the tables were tiny four seaters with white linen and the walls adorned with works of artist Reinhold Sautner.

Parliament House

A neo-classical building completed in 1883 decorated with Greek and Roman figures representing historians, scholars and statesmen.  The fountain in front of the building consists of a 5m statue of Pallas Athena and flanked by allegorical figures representing Law Enforcement and Legislation.

Town Hall

The new Town Hall was built between 1872-1883 in a neo-gothic style.  The central tower stands at 98m topped with one of Vienna's symbols, a statue of a knight-in-armour.  Located in a park, the forecourt is regularly used for events such as the annual Christmas fair.  This time it was decked out with three ice-skating rings.

Here Trini had her first taste of ice skating.  With jelly feet we attempted to skate around the main rings until we discovered a smaller one designed for little children where they were aided by a penguin with skis and handle bars.  It provided Trini with balance and encouraged her to skate herself around (with mummy's or daddy's help of course).  She so loved the penguin, he got lots and lots of hugs and kisses.

Town Hall

One very happy penguin.

Trini cheating.  Mummy pushing the penguin.

Votivkirche (Votive Church)

Whilst currently under external restoration and difficult to appreciate its neo-gothic facade, this mid-19th century church has two magnificent 99m high lacy steeples that are truly a work of art.

Wien University (Vienna University)

The third oldest university in Central Europe, Wien University was founded in 1365 but the current Italian Renaissance structure was completed in 1883.  The courtyard arcades are adorned with statues of famous scholars including Sigmund Freud.

Statue of Liebenberg

This memorial is dedicated to Johann Andreas von Liebenberg who as Mayor of Vienna (17th century) led his people during the plague epidemic of 1679 and defended the town during the 1683 Siege of Vienna by the Ottoman army. 

Freyung Square

We happened upon a tiny market in Freyung Sq with stalls serving freshly baked goods, cheeses and wine.  Whilst the rain was threatening and the afternoon was getting cooler, we couldn't go past experiencing a glass of €2 red wine and fresh rolls.  Very European in my opinion.

Naglergasse and Graben

Naglergasse was a quaint and narrow lane lined with high-end retail stores which led straight into Graben a fully pedestrianised street that runs through the centre of Vienna.




With a full day of exploring, a camera full of photos, snow upon us and dark descending we took off to our usual Cafe Schwarzenberg for dinner.