Our very first year here friends of ours went to Vienna at Christmastime. When they returned they told us that we had to visit. "It's like a Christmas Card. Christmas Markets, Caroling...it's fabulous." Three years later we finally were able to schedule a weekend. Before we moved we were big fans of Passport to Europe. I think it was a travel channel show. Samantha Brown traveled all over the Europe in 3 days episodes. She did Vienna in three days...She saw all the Imperial sights, the Spanish horses, the Palaces, did some shopping. I've come to determine that she left out one very important thing. Teenagers.
   We scheduled almost three days in Vienna. We arrived on Sunday evening. The kids were shocked at how early the sun set. It probably didn't help that we were fast approaching the shortest day of the year.  But by 5 pm when we were walking to the hotel from the train station they couldn't believe that night had fallen. Vienna's transportation is awesome. There is a train that leaves you right in the city center in about 15 minutes. It was a quick 7 minute walk (after we asked a cab driver which direction we needed to head in) to get to the Marriott we were staying at.
    One of the fabulous thing about staying at an American hotel is that we get to experience American foods once again. I know, who goes to Vienna for a hamburger but it made the kids super happy to see an American Sports Bar in the lobby, complete with the NFL on the big screen. A few Burgers,Fries and sodas later and they were happy campers. Jess and Joe elected to stay in the hotel and rest while Andrea, Alexa and I headed out to find the Staatsoper.
    The Staatsoper is the Opera house. And I was convinced I could find a sign in which I could stand in front of the Staat...leaving only me and the "soper", which is my maiden name. Alas, those Austrians, put their little signs way up high and I never was able to get a good picture of it. But we had fun trying. There was also a Market in the area there that we weren't able to find until our friend Maeve showed us the next day. We ended up getting lost, well, more like, wandering in the wrong direction. We stopped for a Starbucks, righted ourselves and headed back out into the night. We must have at least appeared to know what we were doing as a group of tourists stopped us and asked where to find something to eat.

random man walking under the chandeliers. This street is one that they waltz on in the beginning of the Ball season.

St Stephan's

 The street to the right is the "red street" I'm not sure why. That's what Maeve called it. I just liked the decorations. It's also where when we found ourselves on the street again I knew we were not heading in the direction we thought we were.

The next day we woke up and headed out to the Schonbrunn Palace. This palace began it's existence as a hunting lodge on the outskirts of the city. It's now within the city limits and was transformed into quite the country cottage for the Imperial Family. Marie Antoinette spent time here as a child.
Christmas at Schonbrunn Palace

 The market at Schonbrunn Palace was my favorite of all those we saw in Vienna. It was rather small but it had the most unique handmade items. It was where we had the best chocolate dipped fruit and our first taste of the kinderpunch. The non-alcoholic version of the warmed drink they served. Very delicious and much needed on the chilly morning.

Lollipops bigger then Joe's head

Alexa photo bombing our picture

After the Palace we left to meet Maeve, a friend of ours who moved to Vienna from Barcelona a year and a half ago. her daughter Chantalle is very good friends with Andrea. She took us to this great pasta place and then back to St. Stephen's where we got to go inside and look around. We even got to see Chantalle for a few moments when she got off the bus from school. But she had studying to do. And we were cold from the long day outside, so we headed back to the hotel for some swimming and dinner. 

Our third morning we were a bit slow to get up. We went to the Hoffburg in the center of Vienna to visit the Imperial Apartments. It really is a fascinating history. One I've clearly forgotten. But in walking through the china rooms, where one setting came from Milan and another from Rome, reminds you of how vast their empire once was. We also learned all about Empress Sissy, who was an independent minded, if not severely depressed Empress of a beloved Emperor. After we were finished with the history lessons, it was back outside into the freezing temperatures to see another market.

 The market between the two museums, it has a name which escapes me at the moment, was also really nice. They had some great food treats that we tried.
Kids at Rathous

The Rathous market is the largest and most popular of all of the markets. It had the biggest number of stalls and the nicest mugs.  We loved that they decorated the nearby trees with all sorts of different large lights, hearts, snowmen, trains. It was very whimsical. We went first in the afternoon and then came back at night since it was very clear that the lights would be beautiful at night.

Heart light tree

 We took a break back at the hotel to warm up before heading back out to meet Andrea's friend Chantalle. Chantalle planned for the kids to go ice skating in a nearby outdoor rink. We had no idea that this rink was so close to where we were. And the kids had a blast.
ice skating with Chantalle

 Then it was back to the Rathous market to enjoy the lights and get some good food before calling it a night. We were all frozen solid before turning in. But it was such a treat to spend time with old friends as well as soak in the culture and Christmas spirit of the markets. I'm not sure I would characterize it as a Christmas card come to life. But it was spectacular. And we didn't get to see all the top tourist attractions but were greeted with smiles and warmth from old friends. In the end it's the memories that we made that we'll take home with us. And that will continue to urge us to come back.
We woke up early on our last morning to take the train back to the airport. Vienna was truly magical but it was so nice to be back to the relative warmth of Barcelona.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.


Giving Thanks in a foreign land...

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love the excuse to hide away in the kitchen making magic and mayhem in equal measure to feed my family. I love popping out to catch a glimpse of what part of the parade is passing in front of the Macy's doors. Mostly I love taking the time to really appreciate all we have been given. And this year's Thanksgiving, which was not our most traditional Thanksgiving was full of blessings.
First we are thankful that my inlaws were able to visit just two weeks earlier and share a Pre-Thanksgiving feast. I am so grateful this year that on Thanksgiving, Toni,  the man who is in charge of the rotisserie in town, offered to turn it on for us crazy Americans on a Thursday when the only day he does it is Sunday. I'm oh so grateful that he was the one slaving over the bird all day and not me.  I'm thankful that I was able to make the holiday a little more like home for two new Moms by sharing Toni with them. I am also most grateful for new friends after so many left our little community last year. I'm thankful that all of those who left seem to have enjoyed their first Thanksgiving "home" in the US.
Each year I've picked the kids up from school by 2 pm so we are home watching our slingbox, which sends our cable from the US over the internet. I completely forgot that we disconnected the cable until early that morning and spent the better part of my day searching the internet for something that would play it live. We're so very grateful that Karen offered to skype with us so we could see the parade. She pointed her laptop camera at the tv and everyone in the family, (Ben, Kyle, Aaron, Omi, Beverly, Nicole) sat with us and watched the parade. We talked during commercials and it was truly the next best thing to being there. Jessica thinks we should do it every year. I agree. (fair warning Karen-you started a new tradition)
I'm grateful that even after I slaved over the stove all day making the sides we never did get a chance to eat together. You may wonder what there is to be thankful in that. Well, Nick was working and in today's economy I'm very grateful that he has an incredible job that challenges and fulfills him. By the time he was home, since it was Thursday which is our worst night for after school activities...I had already dropped Alexa off at Basketball practice and Andrea at soccer practice. So we ate in shifts, first with the J's then with the A's. After three years of not seeing them play, I'm so very grateful that the girls are participating in sports they love. There is almost nothing that brings out that carefree smile like playing with their teams. I am most grateful that the girls both landed amongst other amazing young women with super families who've taken us in, bad Spanish and all, and made us feel welcomed.
Here in Spain, our Thanksgiving looks a little strange. The tastes are different. The timing doesn't always work out just right. But there is so very much to be thankful for, that our hearts are full.
Sending our love to all...


And we're walking...

with grandma at the aquarium
Grandma resting with Rascal

view of Ruotolo's at lunch at Port Vell from above.
And so we're starting backwards because I have yet to figure out this new Blog photo upload. I used to have to go backwards in time to have them upload correctly apparently that is no longer the case...and that is not what you came here to hear about. We've had a fabulous few weeks of visits from family. Visits from Family means I get to don my tourguide hat and hold aloft the plush flower that indicates everyone needs to follow me and listen to what I say. Finally! (grin, maybe that is why I like it so much)...alas, I do not really have a plush flower that we see so many tourguides walking around with...nor much to my children's pleasure do I hold up an umbrella either. Mostly because I'm rather close to my tour subjects in that they

 know me rather well, what we us being related and all. We spent the last week with Nick's Mom and Sister. It is always a quick week when they come to visit...almost always over before we know it. The kids had a busy week with their activities but we were able to squeeze some fun family time at the Aquarium and then had lunch on the water.
Alexa and Aunt Mo
 The week before Mom and Maureen showed up. My Mom and her two cousins, Linda and Lorraine came to visit. They graciously brought Jessica's weight in American Candy for our Halloween party. More about that later. It was the second time that Linda had been to Barcelona, once before for a day after a cruise...and Lorraine's first time. So, we pulled out all the stops and showed them the fabulousness that we've grown accustomed to...

in front of the Boquieria

in front of the umbrella building on the Ramblas
 We toured the Gothic quarter, walked the Ramblas, sent them on not one but two of the bus tours...and even got in a day trip to Girona.
 We toured the Palau de Musica, a Catalan Modernista Choral auditorium then went to a restaurant in a Gaudi building, Casa Calvet, for lunch. We found out by reading the history on the menu that the knockers on the door were crosses that struck bedbugs, the universal symbol of evil. Who knew that even in the early 1900's people hated bedbugs...although it does make sense when one thinks about it. But the universal symbol of evil...that is rather harsh.
bed bug knocker
Palau de Musica

bed bug=EVIL

Jess helping play tourguide


on Eifle's bridge

inside casa Batllo
  All these pictures are scrambled...

Three beauties on Passieg de Gracia

Breakfast in Sant Cugat

More Girona
Breakfast in Barcelona

Grandma, Andrea and Aunt Mo
   We've loved having all the family around us. Sometimes it's easy in our day to day to forget how lucky we are to live in such an amazing city. There is so much culture and history, beautiful architecture and fabulous food. But more than that is the opportunity to make memories that tide us over until the next time we see each other. So, until we meet again, here's looking at you kid...



An Americana in Paris

 The kids had their cultural field trip and Nick was away on a business trip to Paris. So I did what any sane female would do....I went to join my husband in Paris. He spent most of his time working. And while he was busy I wandered the streets of Paris...

I enjoyed taking pictures in the Jardin de Touleries and walking by the Louvre Museum. I wandered over towards Notre Dame and did some people and gargoyle watching...

I enjoyed getting a closer look at the gargoyles through the lens I didn't have the nerve to go up the stairs inside though.

After walking around Notre Dame I headed back to the hotel for a break. Nick had a work dinner as well. I went to a restaurant in the guide that promised authentic French cooking. I was seated with a fabulous family from Norway. We had a great conversation about the Art in Paris. I was so glad I didn't stay in and order room service. The next morning, Nick was once again working and I spent the day at the Louvre.

I found the perfect tiara for me should anyone decide to make me Queen...

and followed the tourists around to all the most popular pieces of artwork...
The line in front of the Mona Lisa was long and thick. I waited and waited to take the picture below hoping to get a better sense of the photo since the distance and bullet proof glass make it seem rather remote. But...it didn't help. She is beautiful but always leaves me feeling a bit let down.

Winged Victory is one of my favorites.
It was the day we found out that Steve Jobs had died. I found it so touching that people were laying flowers outside the Apple store.

Nick was stuck in work so I took a walk to the Museo D'Orsay hoping to see the incredible collection of Impressionist Artwork. Unfortunately those floors were closed.. I was able to see the Dancer though, as she was sequestered in a room we were not allowed to enter but could see through an opening in the hallway. It's funny that a statue in France can transport me right back to my Nana's house in Steelton where she had a replica. She never fails to make me smile.
Paris at sunset

I finally met Nick in time for a sunset cruise on the River Seine....it was incredibly romantic and a fabulous way to spend our last night in Paris...together at last.