27 February 2010

The Secret Works?


You know the book The Secret? Yeah, go ahead, roll your eyes. I've done that, lotsa times. All that self-help, positive-thinking, you-control-your-own-fate crap, right? Imagine you have a million dollars and soon it will come true! You know who all the examples are in the book? People who made a million dollars selling crappy self-help books like The Secret to suckers like you and me.

The basic premise: send The Universe the right messages and The Universe will deliver all you desire. There's a lot of crap about love and gratefulness and reinforcing it all with imagining you already have what you want.

Listen honey, if that theory worked than I'd have been Brad Pitt's lover years ago and I'd be in a bed made of money with that tall, blond, viking hunk from True Blood right now. Yet The Universe has failed to put any of that in my path. So zzrrrbbbttt! to The Universe, eh?

Or so I thought....

Living in Vienna doesn't present a whole lot of opportunities to eat Mexican. And my skills in the kitchen are such that making Mexican food from scratch, without the handy pre-made sauces, dips, salsas and flavor packets that abound in American grocery stores, is damn near impossible.

Finely chop some limited culinary skill, fold in a low sense of kitchen adventure then add a pinch of inherent laziness and what you have is a recipe for me NOT making Mexican without a Taco Aisle.

Besides - Taco Night is supposed to be a cheap, fun, easy dinner night. Like spaghetti night, it's meant to NOT tax my brain, my schedule or my mood. Guacamole doesn't come from an avocado, it comes from a jar. At least is does when I'm the cook.

And so, sadly, Mexican is off the menu for the time being. I was never a huge fan, so it took me a good few months to really miss it. But when I did I started discreetly checking recipes, and peering more closely at grocery store shelves. Alas, all this did was confirm my initial suspicion. Austria is simply too damned far from Mexico. And so I began lamenting the loss of nachos, enchiladas and tacos from my diet. Once you realize you can't have something you just want it all the more, and I felt deprived.

Suddenly every schnitzel on every menu was a slap in the face. Fifteen kinds of wursts and nothing to stuff a burrito with?!? Was The Universe deliberately withholding what I suddenly wanted most? Brad Pitt be damned, I wanted a TACO!

I was putting an awful lot of energy into wanting and missing Mexican food. I was talking about it to anyone that would listen to me and then...lo and behold...my little neighborhood market became the site for a miracle. A TACO SHELF! Just above the jars and jars of pickled everything, and below the cans of goulash soup, next to the display of magazines (not a one of which I can read.)

It was as if a little imaginary band of mariachi angels started playing as a heavenly light shone down on the newly installed Taco Shelf. I did a happy little jig, shouted Olé and put one of everything in my basket. Last week we had nachos, twice. This week it's chicken enchiladas.

Taco Shelf!! It's not the same as a big ol' American grocery store Mexican AISLE, but I am grateful for the gift, nonetheless.

So you know, The Secret....maybe I was wrong about you. I put my message out there and I got a Taco Shelf.

Muchas gracias, Universe, muchas gracias indeed.

-k.

25 February 2010

Hungry?

en·tre·côte \ˈäⁿ(n)-trə-ˌkōt\ - noun - rib steak, a piece of beef without any bone, cut from between the ribs

If you happen to be in Toulouse and looking for a place to eat, might I make a suggestion?

Prior to our recent visit to Toulouse, Suzanne, who has been there several times, kept going on and on about this place. She would describe it, praise it, tell me she wanted to bring me there, then add the obligatory "only if you're up for it" line.

Me? Up for a highly recommended steak restaurant? "Well, it's a stretch," I told her, "but I am willing to go there to make you happy."

Mwuhaha. This is how you manipulate your friend into thinking you are doing her a favor when you are actually doing exactly what suits you. But I digress.

L'Entrecote is a genius idea, executed perfectly, and as far as I could tell, making money hand over fist doing it. People are literally lining up around the block for a table.

For reals. Lining up I tell ya! This photo was taken early afternoon on Sunday. We ate there at 9.30 on a Saturday night and the line was three times as long. But it moved trés vite because of their genius.

You see, they only serve one thing. That's right. One dish. There's no menu to futz about with. Your only choices are what to drink and if you want a dessert. Otherwise it's a set menu. But man! What a menu!

A basket of bread (after all, this is France, they won't serve you anything without a basket of bread.) Next comes the salad: lettuce & walnuts in a simple, light and tangy dressing. Delish.

But that's all just the warm up....

...for thinly cut, succulent beef covered in the most delicious, buttery garlic sauce I've ever tasted sitting next to a big ol' pile of salty pommes frites. I hope you won't think I am overstating when I say it was a meal of sheer and utter bliss.

And as if that wasn't good enough there's a big platter with more steak for the table. Sigh.

The city of Toulouse was just lovely (more on that in a future post) but this place, whew, I mean this place was good enough that I was already thinking how I could wangle my way back to Toulouse just to eat this heavenly meal again. Imagine my delight when I looked it up online and saw the Gineste de Saurs family has several, identical restaurants at key locations around the world. Barcelona, Bahrain, London and New York as well as a handful of other French locations. So there's a good chance me and this buttery beefy goodness might be meeting up again in the future. And that makes me happy traveler.

-k.

p.s. Not that I wouldn't choose Toulouse again. After all, it's charming and its L'Entrecote has this cozy little pub just across the street should you fancy a wee dram after your meal.

22 February 2010

Kunsthistorisches Museum

This weekend the Mrs. was out of town, traveling in France with Irish Friend Suzanne (in Toulouse with Suze), and my lacrosse practice was cancelled. What would I do with two whole free days? Well, day one was spent around the house, straightenting and getting caught up on things I had been delaying.

Day Two..... The Museum of Art History beckoned.

One of the best Fine Arts (and Decorative Arts) Museums in the World...and I have a yearly pass! There are several different locations and exhibits around town that make up the entire museum collection, but the Picture Gallery is a pretty solid way to spend an afternoon.

above, Madonna of the Meadow by Raffaelo

The collection is mainly made up of the Hapsburgs private collection...so as you can imagine its pretty impressive.

below, The Hunters in the Snow by Pieter Bruegel

The picture gallery is divided into two wings...one of mainly Southern Art (Italian, French, Spanish) and the other dedicated to Northern Art (Dutch, Flemish, German)

below, Tower of Babel...also by Bruegel
I generally spend more time with the Italians and the Spanish...but this time I tried to see what the Flemish were all about.

I'm alwasy drawn to anything by German Albrecht Durer as he is a native son of Nurnberg. I've been to his former house there and seen lots if his work, but also...we share a birthday...May 21

below, The Adoration of the Trinity by Durer
I had the audio guide this time (and not just the free one, the upgraded one for 1.50 Euro!). I got a lot of information that was very interesting...and alot that was not.

My favorite picture from this weekend is "Feast of the Bean King" by Jacob Jordaens.

He actually made several versions of this theme, which is a party taking place on Jan 6th, The Epiphany.

Its an old Flemish Folk Custom that they put a bean in a cake for the Epiphany party. Whoever gets the bean in his piece of cake is the King for the party. The most beautiful girl is the Queen, and several other people are voted into offices such as the King's taster, the Royal Physician etc. Everyone else becomes part of the Court and the party continues. There is a lot going on in this picture, thats for sure. There's even a scroll on the floor that reads, "Nothing seems more like a madman than a drunkard."

To learn more about the Kunsthistorisches Museum click here

19 February 2010

More vids from Barcelona

Carnaval celebrations in one of the old squares.

video

Following the drummers through the Gothic Quarter.

video

Fire Breathing Dragons....oooohhhh scary

video

Chillin to some Spanish Guitar music at Park Guell

video

17 February 2010

Barcelona

Barcelona....finally! A destination I have wanted to hit for a long time, especially since Kelly went there last year with friends from Ireland. She told me I was gonna love it in Barcelona...and boy was she right.

Its too bad we only had a weekend, Barcelona is geographical goldmine for hopping off to explore other places. The Pyrenees, Southern France, Ibiza, Africa.

We arrived in Barcelona at around 11pm which normally would mean that you wouldnt be able to find a place to eat....HA! This is Spain, restaurants don't even open until 8pm!


Hmmmm what should we have...Tapas of course! We found a place right around the corner and got a bunch of stuff grilled vegetables with romesco sauce (below), patatas bravas, bread, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomato, eggplant, stir fried beef cubes, and of course a bowl of olives...and a bottle of wine.

We opted to retire semi-early (2am) rather than stay out all night...we had a lot of sightseeing to do this weekend!

We got up early and walked to Placa Catalunya, and headed down La Rambla, the famed pedestrian street that separates El Raval from the Gothic Quarter, Barri Gotic.

It was a pleasant walk even though the weather wasn't entirely cooperating....maybe 50 degrees and drizzly. We had coffee and then headed back to the Placa Catalunya for lunch.

We met up with Curtis, one of the kids I had coached back in Tampa, who is now a senior at the University of Florida on a study abroad semester in Barcelona. It was great catching up over lunch....but we had even bigger plans for the day.


Curtis (above), Kelly and I met up with some of the members of the Barcelona Lacrosse club for a pick-up game of 3 on 3 beach lacrosse! Its always a blast meeting other lacrosse people, especially when traveling. Its like having friends everywhere!

After a couple hours on the beach, the 7 of us went to a nearby crepe place and had some drinks. Good times, great people....ahhh Barcelona.

By nightfall, Kelly and I had to say adios to our new amigos, because we had exploring to do!

We walked around the Gothic Quarter debating where to eat dinner...until it started pouring rain...then we made a choice pretty quick.


We found a nice place tucked away amongst some old buildings and ordered some steaks...perfect! The people behind us were Americans and were talking business...and politics....hence the look on Kellys face in the picture above. We had a very nice time and then did some more exploring on the way back to our hotel.


We spent a few hours just marveling at all the amazing buildings...Kelly had her nose pressed against many a window (as pictured above)....its a beautiful, beautiful city.

The next day was Valentines Day....and our anniversary...so we sang this all day!



We had a lot of sights to see, first Sagrada Familia!

Under construction since 1882, the massive Church is the most famous building in Barcelona and the masterwork of Spanish modernist architect Antonio Gaudi.

You could stare at the details for hours and hours...its incredible.


Kelly just loves the piles of fruit or whatever it is on top of some of the spires and the giant snails climbing the cathedral. (above)

I liked the..... Cylons?

Seriously, those are some scary looking sci-fi dudes


A very impressive building indeed...Happy Anniversary! (I bet your singing the Flintstones version now aren't you?)


Unfortunately, the line to get in was several hundred people deep...so we got back on the Metro and headed to Park Guell, a garden complex chocked full of more funky Gaudi archtecture.


The weather was much better on Day 2, so we walked all over the park and checked out the sites.We also got some fantastic views of the city and the coast.


We had lunch at a little pizzeria before heading back on the Metro (very convenient) and stopped at a few more Gaudi creations.

Casa Batllo


and La Pedrera


The sun was out now and we walked all the way home through the fancy district just north of the University....lots of great buildings. We decided thats where we'll live when we move to Barcelona. We'll be needing giant shuttered windows and balconies.


In true Spanish style, we napped away the afternoon before heading out for dinner.

Paella! Oh so tasty.


We strolled through the Gothic quarter some more as the city ramped up for another night of Carnaval festivities. Have I mentioned how beautiful Barcelona is?

The next day we decided we would go home and not just damn everything to hell and stay in Barcelona.....but we'll be back.

15 February 2010

Carnaval en Barcelona !

Talk about a great weekend! Valentine's Day was our 12th wedding anniversary....so we celebrated by going to Barcelona.....and it was also Carnaval!

It was incredible. You have to love the Spanish

"Uh oh! Lent is right around the corner! Let's have a big lunch, take a nap, then we'll go downtown and blow some shit up! Tell the kids to grab anything flammable."

"Where's my costume? Ayyyeeee ! Gimme something to burn before Lent starts!"

There were different celebrations all weekend, but Sunday was crazy. There were drum groups parading around all day, people wearing costumes and every square in the Gothic Quarter had something going on.

By 8pm it was ON! Drum groups having drum wars, people dressed as Bulls and Devils running around with flares throwing sticks of dynamite into the crowd, gangs of guys running around with burning branches...so what do the people with kids do you ask?

"Oye Honey look! Those guys dressed as Satan have burning branches! Kids, go run underneath them for good luck...here take some dynamite with you...hurry!"

Turn your sound on and check the video below.


video

11 February 2010

More Fun with Google Translate

Recently I received a letter in the post from the local Magistrate's office. It was in German. Enter Google Translate. A handy tool for the weak-willed and lazy.

That'd be me.

Google Translate has (sort of) provided me with translated cooking instructions from a package, (kind of) helped me determine how long to let the spackle dry before sanding and painting, (almost) told me how to color my hair at home and (nearly) aided me in getting into the building's laundry room. It's not the most exact science, but helpful when used judiciously. I apply it with a good deal of humor, a dose of common sense and a German to English dictionary close at hand.

I am grateful for Google Translate. Scratch that...I am grateful for Google in general. It makes living abroad with rudimentary foreign language skills much less scary.

It also makes me laugh. To paraphrase a good friend and former co-worker: sometimes I just sit in front of the computer wondering "What can I Google today?" With her it was usually dancing midgets. But that's really got nothing to do with my language skills, or lack thereof.

Or does it?? Maybe I'm not picking up German as fast as needs be because "needs be" is a lot less urgent in these days of instant answers. And why pop in my Learn German cds when I can ask Google about a million other interesting and entertaining things (including dancing midgets.)

But that's digging a little too deep for me and my blog today. Next thing you know I'll be lamenting the state of education, the sloth of the iGeneration, the darned new-fangledness of new fangled things and kids reliance on technology versus how "we did it in my day." From there it's a slippery slope to this becoming a post about me aging, and that's just ugly territory, so let's not go there, eh?

Let's just get back to the mail (according to Google Translate.)

"We are pleased to tell you how can that has been decided about your application dated 12.11.2009 positively to issue a registration certificate. Please come to us personally to pick up. Please bring this charge, your passport and Euro 28.20. They are free, together with her / her legal representative or a person to appear on their confidence. If not the German language are mighty, we advise them to come to a suitable accompaniment interpreter to. To avoid long waiting times, we ask you to abide by the stated deadline. "

Ummmm, yeah.
I really need to stop relying on Google Translate and work on my German. It is not yet mighty.

-k.

p.s. I successfully retrieved my registration certificate and am now officially a legal resident of Austria. hooray!

09 February 2010

40 by 40


Kelly and I are off to Barcelona this weekend for Valentines Day and our 12th Wedding Anniversary. This will be my first trip to Spain, which means that I get a checkmark on the ol' visited countries list...and its number 40! The goal was to visit 40 countries before I turned 40...and it appears I will make that goal with 3 months to spare...whew!

The List:

I use the FIFA list for countries, because I count Wales, Scotland and the British overseas territories as separate countries. If Bermuda gets its own national Soccer team, then by George, I'm counting it as well.

Other rules for the country list:

1. If I have been to a country that no longer exists, I don't double count it.

Example1: I had been to East Germany and West Germany. They are both now Germany. I can only count Germany, and East Germany, not all 3.

Example 2: I had been to Czechoslovakia, but have also been to the new Czech Republic and Slovakia. So I can count the latter two, but can't count Czechoslovakia.

2. Plane stops don't count as countries. My rule is boots on the ground....not wheels on the ground.
Example 1: Iceland 1990, I switched planes and had a 6 hr layover in Iceland...it counts.
Example 2: The Azores 1988, Flying from West Germany to New Jersey, the plane landed, picked up some cargo and took off again. I don't count it.

Here is my list.
Feel free to submit your list via comments.

USA
Canada
Mexico
Bermuda
Germany
E. Germany
France
Italy
Austria
Switzerland
Ireland
England
N. Ireland
Wales
Scotland
Netherlands
Belgium
Luxembourg
Denmark
Iceland
Sweden
Finland
Estonia
Poland
Czech Republic
Slovakia
Hungary
Croatia
Slovenia
Vatican City
Romania
Greece
Turkey
Israel
Palestine
Saudi Arabia
Kuwait
Iraq
China
Spain






08 February 2010

I Cricl'd Yes

Got a very important piece of mail today. I knew it was important because it said KELLY! on the front.

Clearly this was no ordinary piece of mail.

And it came in PEACE, which is always nice.

The double exclamation marks !KELLY! on the back told me I should waste no time tearing it open to check the contents.

And I was neither mistaken, nor disappointed. It was indeed both important and exciting. From my best friend Eva! no less.

And the answer is yes, Eva, I will be your Pen Pale.

-k.

04 February 2010

Swissyland!!

This past Friday found us on the overnight train to Zurich. Chris and his Cherokees were playing in the Swiss Open box lacrosse tournament so I tagged along to catch up with everyone's favorite cousin, Michael. I finally got to meet Gabi and their two kids Silas & Moira. I was utterly charmed by all of the above. The only disappointment was not getting to meet oldest sibling Juri, as he was with his Dad for the weekend, but I am holding out hope for the spring!

It's been about 10 years since I last visited Zurich, so I didn't remember much. My first impression this time around?

Holy mackerel it's snowy here!!

Second impression? My cousin has a ginourmous head o' hair on him!

I was calling him Jock Ewing the whole weekend. Which I guess would make Silas J.R. But pirate Silas prefers a saltier setting than Southfork...

Old Silas Red Greaves said "Your hook is pitiful, ye grog-snarfing landlubber. Blast ye, ya scurvy dog! " Or at least I think he did, since he said it in German and I'm a little, ummm, rusty. (Read: have been lazy about doing my language studies.)

My German was more on a level with two-year old Moira. Mainly because only 3 out of every fifteen words she says are actual words. We got along swimmingly. Plus she likes to climb up on your lap and just hang out. 'Nuff said.

What with all the snow and the hair and the cute kids lying around, we decided to get out of the house and...

...go sledding!!

After a few well-aimed snowballs of course.

Mommy & Daddy do all the grunt work. Isn't that nice?
See that extra sled Gabi is pulling? That's the one us grownups took turns using. Woooooo!

It was a wee little hill in the park just beside their house, tres convenient for an hour's worth of snowy fun. But wee little hill or not, I wasn't brave enough to accompany Moira down the slope. That cargo is way too precious for me to take responsibility for.

After all the sledding and snowball throwing we came home to meet Chris, back from the lacrosse tournament (ahem, first place!) just in time to start the Moira throwing....

...and to challenge Ol' Silas Red Greaves to a duel. A duel fought in, quite literally, every room of the house (basement too!) Chris is a great one for revving up any available children to a fever pitch until that they are bouncing off the walls and screaming their heads off with laughter just before bedtime. That comes with the territory of "Professional Uncle." But to his credit he also took a quiet moment with the little ones to check out a book...

Look what happens when you occupy both children's attention for a few minutes. No wonder Michael & Gabi are happy to welcome guests!!

For reals though, people, these guys were great hosts, I felt welcome, comfy and at home. It was so nice to spend time with one of my favorite people and get to know his favorite people. The kids are big, giant mushes who were easily entertained and delightfully pleased to have a visitor. I tell you, those little monsters are good for my ego. So vielen dank, Michael & Gabi. Hope to be able to return the favor soon.

-k.