Throwback Thursdays: Healing in Hong Kong

A few weeks after Hershey crossed the rainbow bridge, I told Hubs that there was no way in hell I wanted to be anywhere near Vienna when the one year anniversary mark hit. We looked around for a new place to visit and decided on Hong Kong. It was far away and didn’t resemble anything “European”. We left on Christmas day and flew with Turkish Airlines. This was before Austrian Airlines announced their new nonstop route from Vienna. I really didn’t care for Turkish Airlines and probably won’t fly them again.

Once in Hong Kong, it was like the breath of fresh air we desperately needed. We mainly went there to eat, take in the sights and heal. Hong Kong is very hilly and has lots of stairs. Thank goodness for the mid-level escalators in the center of the city.

The Hong Kong tram system is the only one left in the world that operates double decker trams exclusively. It was so charming and cool. We rode them every chance we got! Hubs and I also stood in line for Victoria Peak not knowing we already had the right tickets to jump to the front of the line. So when a family of four cut in front of us-I used some, ummm, choice words, loudly. Needless to say, they thought I was the crazy one. It was well worth it once we got to the top. The iconic views of  the Hong Kong skyline were amazing. Although extremely touristy, it’s a must-do.  If you decide to go to Victoria Peak, here’s a tip – use the bus instead of the tram to go up AND down the mountain.  Plus, the wait is much shorter both ways with the bus – and cheaper!

We also took advantage of going to a modern and “real” movie theater.  The American cinema company AMC exists there and paying the extra costs to be in the VIP room was well worth it. Like in most Asian cities, they jack up the air conditioning so high that you’re a popsicle by the time you leave. There were reclining leather seats with call buttons for an attendant to fetch you anything you wanted during the movie.

I didn’t find out until a day or two before the trip that there was a coffee shop named Hazel & Hershey in Hong Kong.  It was fate… I couldn’t think of a better place to celebrate Hershey’s life than this for the one year mark. They had really good matcha lattes and coffee; we went back a few days later for a second helping.

During our trip we also celebrated Hubs’ birthday. I surprised him with a buffet brunch at the Ritz Carlton on the 102th floor near the harbor on the Kowloon side. We had a special window table and the views were unsurpassed. The food was delicious, too. It was our last day in Hong Kong.

In many ways, this trip was healing for us. It doesn’t erase Hershey or the days leading up to his death, but it took away a lot of the pain associated with the time of year it happens to fall near. I know that Christmas and New Years will forever be bittersweet in our hearts.

Throwback Thursdays: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

In October 2015, my friend Emily asked if I would be interested in tickets to the upcoming Harry Potter play in London. Of course I was! She proceeded to wait in a “virtual line” for six hours. She originally wanted to obtain tickets for Summer 2016, but by the time it was her turn she was offered tickets for late October 2016. A whole year away! Nevertheless, I was thrilled, it was no question, we took them!

Finally, a year passed, we collected our tickets and found our seats. At that moment, it finally hit me that we were in f*ing London to see the new Harry Potter play! I felt like we won the lottery.  It was totally a “pinch me” moment. The play was in two parts, over two nights – the first part was on the 20th and second on the 21st. I made sure not to read anything about the production or the book so I wouldn’t be disappointed if it turned out “just okay”. Everything from the cast, costumes, set and special effects were fantastic. Going into it without knowing the details of the story made the play even more magical. And, did I mention we had awesome seats? It was such an incredible experience that our Christmas card for 2016 had a picture of us in front of the theater. It wasn’t the best picture, but it was a moment in 2016 that captured pure joy.

Speaking of amazing plays, and fun stuff happening in the West End….the critically acclaimed Hamilton play is making its way to this side of the pond in Fall 2017. This time around it was my turn to wait in virtual line to get tickets as soon as they went on sale in late January 2017.   By the time it was my turn, I snagged tickets for January 2018. A full year away…again! So excited and can’t wait to share our experiences of it early next year!

We did other London things too.  Hubs and I took the time to have high tea at Claridges, which was really nice and relaxing. After trying many afternoon tea places over the years, my favorite is still at the Connaught Hotel. Other than the play and high tea, we didn’t really have anything else planned except to eat! We went back to some of our favorite eateries and found a few new places to try.

 

Darling Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik has been on our bucket list even before our move to Europe. Hubs and I have heard nothing but great things about Dubrovnik. After four and a half years, we finally made our way “next door”. Austrian Airlines flies non-stop from Vienna to Dubrovnik, seasonally. It’s definitely not the cheapest option, but most convenient – a ten hour drive vs. a 75 minute flight.  We’ll take the flight, thanks.

We landed and quickly started our journey to the city. As soon as we caught the first glimpse of Dubrovnik, it literally took our breath away. Our driver was kind enough to stop for us to capture that moment from the road along the cliffs overlooking the city.

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As soon as we got settled into our AirBnB, we set out to explore the city. We didn’t want to do too much as we had a Game of Thrones tour the next day.

Hubs and I became Game of Thrones fans during our first few months living in Vienna. We binged watched the first two seasons before the start of the third. A lot of the filming takes place in Northern Ireland, Spain, and Croatia. Dubrovnik is the primary backdrop for Kings Landing. The locations tour was fascinating and we had to use a lot of our imagination due to the CGI add-ons. The Red Keep is completely digitalized, but you can see the foundation they used. We got to see the famous sights for some of the iconic scenes from the show, such as, Cersei’s walk of shame, the Purple wedding, Myrcella leaving for Dorne, etc. It was great to get a feel of how much work goes into filming just one scene. At the end of the tour, we had the option to visit a very touristy shop that had a replica of the Iron throne. As cheesy as it might seem, I had to take my turn and try it out!

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The rest of our time in Dubrovnik was spent climbing A LOT of stairs. Steep and sometimes cumbersome- anyone with leg/knee problems would have a really tough time. I felt like my legs were going to give way a few times, especially in the heat.

We also did a day trip to the island of Lokrum. It’s the closest island to Dubrovnik, only a 15 minute boat ride from the old harbor. An old monastery on Lokrum is the set for Qarth. The island’s native inhabitants are peacocks and rabbits. People mainly go there to swim, sunbathe, kayak and hike. We only stayed for a couple hours, but could’ve easily spent the whole day there if we had more time.

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Overall, I’d say Dubrovnik is a great long weekend getaway- but if you want to take your time and see other places nearby (Bosnia, Montenegro and other islands), it could easily become a one or two week holiday. I’d also recommend going during shoulder season. We were there just as the cruising and high season started and seeing people being herded like sheep with their paddle-holding guide leading a large group of (loud, rude, shouting) tourists can be overwhelming, especially in such high concentrations.

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Throwback Thursdays: Hunting for Polish Pottery

I’m going to restart my Throwback Thursdays series to backtrack and blog about the adventures we took over the last year or so. Those who follow me on Instagram have seen glimpses of what we’ve been up to. It’s the only platform of social media that I use consistently these days.

Hubs and I like to make use of the office holidays he gets here, and this year the dates all happened to fall on a Friday or Monday – perfect for long weekend getaways. At the beginning of May 2017, we went on a road trip to Poland. Our first visit to Poland was in summer of 2015, and we went to Krakow and Auschwitz.

The itinerary this time was Boleslawiec and Wroclaw. If you recognize the name Boleslawiec, then you know it’s world renowned for its unique pottery – in this case, think of everyday dishes bowls, mugs, etc… Many military wives and expats who live within an eight hour drive have gone on weekend expeditions (yes, multiple!) to buy heaps of this stuff.  When I mean heaps, I mean American sized SUVs/mini-vans filled to the brim with boxes and boxes of the pottery. The parking lots were filled with Jeeps, Odysseys, etc. These were dead giveaways of the presence of American military wives since they usually ship their vehicles from the states during their time overseas.

I first heard about the Polish pottery when I happened upon other expat wives blogging about day and weekend trips there. It piqued my interest and I started to do the research. Boleslawiec Pottery is only made with locally sourced clay only found in that particular region of Poland. The intricacies of these hand painted and handmade pieces are just exquisite. There are many collectors and it’s super expensive to buy authentic pieces outside of Europe. Hence, the reason why people come here to buy Costco amounts of this stuff. It’s so affordable to buy it in Poland. I love the fact that it’s dishwasher, oven, microwave safe AND super sturdy. There are many categories of the pottery and usually people buy GAT (quality) 1 or 2 for the above mentioned purposes. The other categories (below 2) are usually just “for show” or decorative pieces. As you can see from the pictures, I had a bit too much fun.

 

I also should mention that it was our very first time trying homemade Pierogis. I also had this savory potato pancake-like dish with goulash stuffed inside. OH. MY. LORD, comfort food at its best! So delicious! My mouth is watering even as I type this.

Onto to Wroclaw! We spent two nights in this charming little city. It’s often mistaken for Warsaw. What was really nice is that it’s not crawling with “English speaking” tourists-yet. Most locals couldn’t speak or understand English-which was quite refreshing. Hand gestures and pointing were greatly appreciated. We loved going on a “scavenger hunt” for the famous dwarf statues of the city. Did you know that there are over 400 of them dotted throughout the town? We found 40 of them during our short stay.

Poland has really captivated us and I have a feeling we’ll be making more road-trips back to explore more of this lovely country!

Starting again

When I started this blog in 2013, I never thought I’d stop. It’s been a little over a year since I last posted. I’ve thought about my blog from time to time, especially after each trip we’ve taken since. In 2015, the blog was mainly just journaling our trips. I miss that. Because even though I wrote about our daily lives in the beginning, it evolved into so much more. The whole reason that I started this blog was: to journal about all of our adventures. I’ve missed out on about two years of the places we’ve been able to experience. It was also the great loss of our Hershey that completely halted almost everything in my life. It left a gaping hole in my heart and zapped away any passion I had for anythingI thought the grief I had for my dad’s death was bad, this took it to a whole other level. It was almost like an avalanche of all the losses in my life came crashing down on me. It was so bad that I had to be treated for PTSD/anxiety and clinical depression, which is something I was already diagnosed with in 2011.  It makes every day a struggle.  I’m a very private person and have been reluctant to share something like this so publicly, but I no longer want to hide behind the stigma of my mental health.

Hubs and I just came back from spending five days in Dubrovnik, Croatia. And as I sit here this morning, a spark of energy came about me to start blogging again. It came out of nowhere. So, now, I want to dust off the cobwebs and start journaling about our adventures yet again. I want to be able to look back when I’m old and gray- and re-live (or help us remember) one of the most life changing experiences of our lives.

 

Life Lately: New Beginnings

It’s been nearly five months since Hubs and I experienced an extreme loss. I can tell you that for the first two months, we were operating on “survival mode”. Food didn’t taste like anything, I didn’t leave the house unless I was forced to, and the numbness that went with it all. We were grieving, and heavily. But, during that time, we had an outpouring of support from our network of people here. People made us cookies, helped us prepare meals, sent beautifully hand written cards/emails, constant texts just seeing if we were okay, and some even made home visits just to keep me company.

Even with all that was going on with us emotionally, a lot of things have happened since. We met up with my in-laws in Italy for a week at the end of March, I went on a girls weekend in late April to Amsterdam with my best friend here in Vienna. We went mainly for the tulips and art. Most recently, Hubs and I made a trip home to visit family and friends for two weeks at the beginning of the month.

All of those memorable experiences were amazing and then things really changed over course of the two weeks while we were home. It’s no surprise that in the three years we’ve lived here, I’ve tried to find work in a very limited and competitive job market for expats. I had given up and was in the midst of starting a small business when I got that life changing email. I received an email to schedule an interview a few days before we were leaving to visit the US, I went, and the day before we left I was offered the position! Knowing how things have worked out for me in the past, I was still skeptical that something could change that without having an official offer. Hubs and I still went to the US on the premise that we’d be shopping for work clothes for me while we were home. Because, let’s face it, Europe doesn’t really have “petite” sections.  When we were home, I even had to special order size 5 (35 eu) work shoes for my, as Hubs says, “freakishly small, I mean delicate, feet”. Two days before we left the states, I finally had the official offer which I accepted only moments later. Thank you, Jesus!

And so I started a new chapter the day after we came back to Vienna. It didn’t matter that I was jet-lagged and exhausted. It was something that I figured would never happen and an amazingly rare opportunity. I know this may sound ridiculous to most of you, but I feel like Hershey had a hand in these turn of events, wherever he may be.

To new beginnings! And may it be the game changer I’ve been working towards.

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Hershey’s Heartbreak

This has been one of the most difficult posts I’ve written to date.

2015 ended on a very devastating note for Hubs and me. We had to let our precious Hershey cross the rainbow bridge. It was one of the most excruciating decisions that we’ve ever had to make. But in the end, we had to do what was best for our little guy.

Chihuahuas have been in my life since my early twenties; I dog-sat for a family friend’s little one occasionally. She had such a fun personality. From then on, I knew this dog breed would be in my life forever. In 2004, I bought a little Chihuahua (Oscar) and in 2007 my sister brought another Chihuahua home; they became two peas in a pod. When I got married and left my family home, I couldn’t take my Chi away from his friend. About a year and a half of being married and away from my doggies, I felt that something was missing.  In January 2011 my sister sent me a link to a dog on Petfinder.com. His name was Hershey. I was a little wary of a rescue dog, only because of unknown backgrounds, temperaments and genetically predisposed diseases. Was he abused? What would set him off? But that all went away when we found out that he was abandoned on the coldest day that month, wandering the streets. He was found in a little town called Hershey, Pennsylvania. And that’s how he got his name.  He just happened to be the same color as the chocolate. Hubs and I went through the lengthy adoption process and brought him home on February 5.

It definitely took a while for Hershey to get acclimated to us. He wasn’t the typical cuddly chihuahua that I was used to. He was independent and had a whole lot of spunkiness.  Hubs would joke that he was probably raised by cats, or part cat. A few months after we got him, he was found to have bladder stones.  We had to do what was right for our family and got him surgery to remove them. After that, he continued to bring so much joy to us with his crazy antics.  It was becoming clear that his personality was so much bigger than his small stature.

Sometime in 2012, during a routine vet visit, the doctor found that Hershey had a heart murmur. No big deal. We had him on medication and fish oil. He went from a grade 2-3 to almost non detectable after a few months. We were thrilled!

In January 2013, we moved to Vienna, Austria. We wouldn’t dare leave him behind, so we made sure all the proper paperwork and medical examines were taken care of. This lucky pup got to fly in business class and did wonderfully on the long flight.  Given his antics, we did expect him to act up a bit, but he surprised us.

Unfortunately, his heart murmur got worse. At his first checkup in Vienna, his murmur has raised to a solid 3 or 4 on a scale of 6.  He was prescribed a single new pill, but stronger than the first one to manage it. Then, in March 2014, he was diagnosed with the beginning stages of congestive heart failure (CHF). The doctors assured us that with medication, dogs live very fulfilling and long lives. Little did we know that we were just buying Hershey time. By the end of 2015 he was on four different medications daily.  The medications never seemed to bother him, however.  He kept right on with his spirit and was just as feisty and playful as the day we got him.  Life was good.

In the early hours of December 27, 2015, we were abruptly awoken to Hershey’s heavy breathing, non-responsiveness, limp limbs, and fully dilated eyes.  I put my ear to his chest and heard no heartbeat, but he was still barely conscious. We rushed him to a 24hr Vet Hospital and waited for doctors to do what they needed to do. Sitting in that waiting room was painful. They came back and told us that he was stable, but in critical condition.  His condition was caused by a build up of fluid around his heart, the fluid prevented his heart from pumping correctly and supplying his small body with circulation. The doctors did mention the possibility of end stage CHF. He stayed for two nights to get a bunch of testing done and was doing better after they had drained the fluid.  Hubs went to pick him up on December 29 after work. They didn’t even get 50 meters from the front door when Hershey collapsed. Again, he was rushed in.  The doctors were puzzled, because they thought that this was idiopathic and not related to his heart problems.  In the two days he stayed at the hospital he had no fluid build up, but the moment we were to leave there it was again.  They drained it once again and the doctors gave us the option to have him stay overnight or take him home. We decided on the latter. Not even 24hrs later, we saw early signs of problems and went to the hospital to have him re-checked. I lost it when I saw the doctor’s face when she came back to us.  The fluid was back. Hershey’s quality of life would be abysmal.  He barely had any energy, and the feistiness we knew was mostly gone. It was then that we decided that we didn’t want him to suffer anymore. December 30, 2015 was the worst night of our lives.

Hubs and I never thought we could love an animal as much as we loved Hershey. We have been left with gaping holes in our hearts that can never be replaced.

Until we meet again, our dear Hershey bear,  you meant the world to us. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of your life. We will forever love you.

 

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A unique Parisian souvenir

Ever wish there was a way to take the best travel pictures without having to resort to using a selfie stick, or hoping another tourist will take a picture of you and your loved one(s) and be able to capture the picture just right? Whenever Hubs and I travel, I have no shame in asking people to take pictures of us. Yes, I’m one of those semi-obnoxious tourists. But in my defense, I’m very polite about it and doesn’t just shove my camera at someone.  Plus, I always offer to take a picture in return for the other person. I usually look for someone who has a DSLR camera around their neck, because they’d most likely take a better picture than someone with a point-and-shoot or a smartphone.   Unfortunately, that theory only holds true a little more than half the time. Sometimes it’s a bit annoying, and selfies usually only capture our two big heads and barely anything else. Growing up, my mom always said “if you’re not in the picture, then you were never really there” and it has stuck with me ever since. She makes a good point though. When Hubs and I look back in 50 years, we’d want to remember all the things we’ve seen and experienced. Pictures of that random flower in the park is not going to jog our, probably, foggy memories of exactly where we were.

So when we were in Paris, about a month ago, I arranged for a professional photographer to take pictures of us at the famous sights of the city. It was a belated wedding anniversary gift and I am going to use some of the pictures for our holiday cards this year.  I received them this week and she did such a fantastic job! I am so in love with our pictures. I can say that this tops any souvenir I’ve ever gotten from our travels.

And if you’re wondering, none of the pictures below are in the holiday cards 🙂

 

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Life Lately: Trying to fit into the mold

It seems like my blog has turned into more of a travel one than expat for about a year now. As we’re inching closer to our three year anniversary in Vienna, I’d like to take time to reflect on what’s been happening during the last year.

The first two and half years were great. I was networking and making friends with a great group of women, my schedule finally had a daily routine, getting used to how Vienna works, trying all sorts of different hobbies, gave German a shot, traveled around Europe, and the world. Everything looked and sounded peachy, right?

Oh how I could be so wrong. How is it that every other expat is having a fine time adjusting to the culture and life here in Vienna and I’m not? Is there something wrong with me? It took a lot of time to figure it all out and then I realized what was really wrong. I’ve straddled two entirely different cultures and three languages my whole life. I didn’t learn English until I was school aged and even after that I still had to come home and switch hats to communicate with my family. I’ve been told several times in my life that I’m “too Americanized” by my relatives, so in order to please them I would dive into being what they expected of me.  So I never really had a defined identity.  Then I’m sprinkled into the Austrian culture, which is completely different from being American and/or Taiwanese – a seemingly disastrous combination.

I’ve only come across a handful of expats that felt the same way as I do living here. And to be honest, I know I’ve put off a lot of people when I’ve been brutally straightforward about my feelings of Vienna. I absolutely hate the situation I’m in here. And with that comes the “oh you just haven’t met the right people” or “you need to get out more” or “are you sure you are doing everything possible to assimilate?”. That’s when I shut up and shutdown. It makes me feel like my problems are not valid and are figments of my imagination. Don’t get me wrong, I love all the friends that I’ve had the privilege to get to know here. I care and value them deeply.  There are so many great memories that I have with them. But, at the same time, there’s still a lot of room for my personal growth and development that I need to figure out.

Which brings me to “Well, what the hell do I do now?”. I feel like I’m stuck in a tunnel with no light at either end. I’m feeling completely lost. I know I’ve been told by several people that this is my chance to do something I’m a passionate about, a hobby.  It’s hard to keep trying different things and being disappointed with the outcome.  So what’s next?  Maybe I should look into underwater basket weaving…

 

Paris is always a good idea

Ahhh, Paris! When mentioning the ‘City of Light’, people tend to think romance, art, Eiffel Tower, and all the other stereotypes that they associate with this city. This visit was more special than the first time I was there. Hubs had never been to Paris (or France) and I would be experiencing it differently this time around.  My first visit was on a mother/daughter trip some years ago, as part of a whirlwind European tour. Fall is my favorite season, because of the crisp weather and beautiful colors of the trees. Add Paris into the mix, and I would say it’s close to an extraordinary combination.

We opted to stay in the 11th arrondissement and had easy access to two metro lines to easily transit to the rest of the city.  Hubs is a huge fan of public transit in any city we visit.  You should see the glee on his face when we’re able to get from point A to point B without the use of a taxi (he loathes them). The Paris metro and bus options are dense and effective. I prefer it over the London Underground.

During my first visit I did all the touristy things like going to the Louvre, Versailles, etc. So Hubs and I planned this visit a little differently. We explored numerous neighborhoods, ate lots of amazing food, and saw all the typical touristy sights. In my opinion, getting lost in the different neighborhoods in Paris is the best way to see it.

Food and tasting tours have become sort of “our thing” now.  We’ve done one on most of our trips. And in Paris, a food or wine tour is an absolute must! We went with a food one. Our guide taught us a lot about how and where Parisians shop. It was cool to learn how to read the label on the products to know what to look for. For example, we learned a thing or two about chickens.  Chickens are all labeled with details to inform the consumer with exactly what they’re getting.  The labels would indicate where the chicken came from, the farm it was raised on, whether the chicken had been raised on one farm for its whole life, and what it was fed.  A whole lot of information, one which Americans might associate with a Portlandia scene about a chicken named ‘Colin’.  The chickens, based on their quality, can range in price all the way up to 20€ per kg.  Which is about 10$/lb.  Supposedly you do get what you pay for, so the top quality chickens do taste the best.  Also, it is customary to leave the neck and heads on the chickens when you buy them, so the consumer can know for sure the breed of chicken. After the walking part of the tour, we were whisked away to a secret spot with our small group and tried all the little items our guide had picked up and described along the way.  My new favorite cheese:  goat cheese with truffles. It was so creamy and had the consistency of American cream cheese. Incredibly delicious. On the flip side, I know I don’t like pâté – of any type (and I’ve tried plenty).  It’s an acquired taste from I’ve been told.  I choose not to believe it.  

I would say that I have quite an obsession with macaroons. I’m not a fan of the brand Ladurée . It’s too commercialized and not handmade anymore. They have locations everywhere including New York and even Taiwan. Pierre Hermé is another huge brand, but his macaroons have different and unique flavor combinations. He went to Japan and some of his flavors are inspired from there. We tried about five different brands and out of all of them my favorites were Pierre Hermé and Un Dimanche à Paris. The latter brand is still a small boutique specializing in chocolate and macaroons; all their items are still handmade.

Our 6th year wedding anniversary was in September, so I decided to secretly arrange for a professional photographer to snap pictures of us during one afternoon in Paris as a gift. I thought it was one of the best things we did in Paris. Hubs loved the idea of having those pictures as souvenirs. It’ll be a few weeks before we see the results, but it’s definitely something we’re looking forward to.  Our photographer was an American and her husband is a French national.  It’s really neat talking to other expats we come across and hear how they’ve adapted to life in a different world.

While in Paris, you must shop! And that I did. During our travels, I usually bring back a piece of jewelry or art from a local artist. In Paris, I coordinated with a local a few weeks before we arrived to take me to boutiques that specialized in small Parisian designers.  I wanted to find a few pieces of jewelry to spice up my existing wardrobe. It was such a unique and successful experience.  There were no tourists along our three hour journey in the little boutique shops, so I really felt like a local. Hubs went and did his own thing during this time, hehe.

In the end, I have fallen even more in love with Paris (if that is even possible!). Hubs and I can’t wait to do another long weekend in the City of Light!

 

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