It’s High Time for a Hochzeit

I met Nicole at an organized meet-up for expats in December 2013. We’ve gotten together several times since and have become close friends over the years. She got engaged to a super nice Austrian guy over a year ago and said that we’d be invited for their wedding. At the time, Hubs and I weren’t sure if we’d still be in Vienna when they planned to get married,  but promised that no matter where we were in the world it wouldn’t be something we’d miss!

Over the weekend, we were privileged to be able to share Nicole & Ben’s special day.   Their wedding took place an hour outside of Vienna and in a castle no less! Hubs and I were super excited to be able to experience our first German/Austrian wedding. The ceremony took place in the church on the castle grounds. I’ve only ever been to one other Catholic wedding ceremony, which was a shock to me, because it was over two hours long (most weddings I’ve been to up to that point have been non denominational).  Hubs explained that there were different levels of a Catholic wedding ceremony depending on how deeply religious the family are (light, medium, and heavy) and the bride told me beforehand that it would be an hour long (medium). The ceremony was especially interesting because it was entirely conducted in German and the priest was the groom’s uncle.  However, the priest did give the Begrüßung (Welcome) in both English and German.  Nicole and Ben’s music selections included a few modern  “pop” selections, like “Rest of My Life” (Bruno Mars), “How Long Will I Love You” (Ellie Goulding), and, Hubs’ favorite of the ceremony, “Top of the World” (The Carpenters) – Hubs likes The Carpenters.  All the selections were sung by hired singers. At the end of the recession, all the guests and priest exited the church first and were handed little tubes with bubble mixture so that the newlyweds could be given a proper exit.

After the ceremony, it was cocktail hour in the courtyard of the castle with a traditional Austrian band playing in the background. It was really nice and the photographer even got the entire group into a picture from above the courtyard! My feet were thanking me (I have foot problems and hardly ever wear heels) when it was time to head into the Coat of Arms Hall for the reception. For dinner, it was buffet style. It was one of the most delicious wedding fare we’ve ever had. There were many choices with emphasis on locally sourced foods. They really put so much thought and effort into everything from: dual-language wedding ceremony programs, thank you favors, and having the menu on postcards of places they’ve visited or lived. I think having a photo booth with prop box is a norm these days at weddings and it’s always fun! We got to hear some really bad 80s Austrian music, which is akin to some of the awful songs that have been traditional at American weddings.  One of the songs we heard was by Falco, but not the “Rock me Amadeus” song.  Yeah, Falco is Viennese.  Mind blown!  Another difference, but cool, aspect of the wedding is that the bride and groom make speeches thanking those who have come and focused on each table about the relations they have with individuals at the wedding. I thought it was a nice personal touch instead of just the general “thank you for being here” blah blah.

Overall, I just love weddings and this was no exception. A tear or two is always shed as I find it extremely romantic seeing two people so in love and becoming family. It’s unique experiences like these that make living abroad the icing on the cake!

 

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.

 

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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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…

 

Til the cows come home

The state of Tirol in Austria has been on our list since we moved here and just got around to it this week! I’m still a bit “giddy” from our trip.  The main draw for us this year was to attend an event called Almabtrieb. It’s German for “cattle drive”. In the alpine regions of Europe, farmers lead cows up to alpine pastures to feed during the summer. When autumn comes around, the cows are led back down to the valleys. This is a celebrated tradition and has become popular to tourists and locals over the years. I purposely picked a weekend where Hubs and I were able to experience three different ‘Almabtriebs’ in three small villages.  As you’ll see, I went a little overboard with pictures and videos.

I was tickled with joy when the cows paraded into town with massive bells ringing, some of which were decorated. If there weren’t accidents on the mountains, the cows would be decorated elaborately with garlands. In all the Almabtriebs we saw, there were no accidents.  When the cows were finally herded to their temporary destination after the village celebration, they are then returned to their owners to graze on grasses in the valleys. Spectators then retreat into tents for food, beer, music and awards. It was an unbelievable experience that I will never forget.

Aside from the cows, we explored the beautiful landscapes of the Austrian Alps. We’ve never seen grass in such a beautiful shade of green.  The high alpine lakes are also brilliantly clear, clean, and a lovely shade of green when seen from above. It was breathtaking how you could see forever in the valleys and every turn was more gorgeous than the last.

After the Almabtriebs ended we headed to our next destination, Innsbruck.  It was our jumping off point for a few activities, and Hubs had never been to the city.  I visited it a few years ago on a whirlwind tour of Europe with my mother.  I didn’t remember it too well, so it was nice to refresh my memory.  We only had one sunny day there and made the most of it.  One of my best friends has raved about rodelbahns (think of a bobsled track with roller coaster rails) that she and her family go to every year. That gave me the idea to find one near Innsbruck, in Tirol. Hubs and I had the opportunity to ride one in a nearby ski village called Zillertal. It was so fun! But, I was a bit bummed that they hadn’t yet completed the installation of the camera thingy catching you enjoying the ride.  Maybe next time.  We also had a fantastic Tyrolean lunch perched on the side of a mountain overlooking the valleys.  Did you know that Swarovski Headquarters are in Innsbruck?  I sure did.  Hubs did not.  He was kind enough to put up with the tour and had coffee in their cafe while I “looked around”.

We took our time driving back and in each small village we passed through we would look for cows, slow down, roll down the windows and listen for the distinctive “clang, cling, clong” sounds of the cows in the field.  It was a memorable road trip and if we get the chance to go back to Tirol, we’ll be sure to be there with bells on.

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Visit from the In-Laws

Last week, my in-laws came into town. It was my mother in-law’s first time out of the U.S.; she just acquired her first passport, ever, last year. Hubs and I were both “over-the-moon” excited to have family in town.  They were only here a relatively short time, but we packed in as much as we could in eight days. We took them to all the typical sights in town and even squeezed in Budapest for a few days. It always gives me a new perspective seeing both cities through fresh eyes. In Budapest, we all experienced sights for the first time, such as: Hospital in the Rock and a tour of Parliament.  They were, personally, highlights of their visit for us.

Before living in Vienna, I was never one to want to continue to return to places I’d had already been.  “One and done” was my philosophy.  I always thought that there were so many other places in the world to explore, why would I limit myself? One of the perks of living in Vienna, specifically, is that it’s extremely affordable to travel to neighboring countries and cities.  Luckily, we have two great cities nearby.  Budapest and Prague have been cities that I’ve frequently visited in the last two years and will probably continue to do so for as long as we live here.  We switch back and forth between them, especially when guests come to town.

On the last night, my mother in-law and I went to the Wiener Staatsoper to see Swan Lake. It was a magical end to a wonderful visit.  My mother-in-law said after the performance, “Now, I feel like I’ve had the full Vienna experience”.

We miss them already!

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Wir machen Urlaub

It’s not uncommon to see “We’re on holiday” signs in storefronts around town. It’s especially a popular sighting during the summer months. You see, under Austrian law, it’s required to provide at least five weeks of leave.  Which doesn’t include sick leave or the numerous holidays Austrians get.  Although Hubs doesn’t receive any of the Austrian holidays off (except one), we really can’t complain about the six weeks of leave he gets at work, either.

 
As you can see, some store owners get really creative with their signs and others keep it simple.

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The Quintessential Lazy Day

When our friends asked us to go to a spa/wine resort for a lazy Sunday, we couldn’t resist. Who would? They picked us up early on Sunday morning and we headed to a town called Langenlois. It’s about an hour outside of Vienna and is home to the smaller of two properties of the LOISUM chain hotels in Austria. It was nice to get away and see the countryside of Austria. We’ve seen other towns and tourist attractions in Salzburg, Hallstatt and Linz, but haven’t quite ventured into the rural areas.

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The hotel itself is small and modern. It has its own vineyard, a spa featuring Aveda products, and a heated pool.  Since we didn’t book the spa in time, we lost out on the chance of getting treatments. We did have full access to the sauna, lounge and pool areas- which Hubs took advantage of. We had a leisurely brunch with our friends, took a nap, read, had afternoon coffee with cake, and met back with our friends for dinner. It was truly a lazy Sunday, spent with great company. I’d highly recommend taking a day (spa) trip there if you have the possibility.

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Tasty Tuesdays: Home Edition

I’ve been bedridden with a nasty virus for the last two days, so my ever so thoughtful Hubs brought home a Tasty Tuesday for me. I’m just grateful that I haven’t lost my appetite and taste buds to enjoy the slice of black forest cake, which happens to be one of my favorites.

As you can see, I really didn’t have the energy to take any before shots…

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Tasty Tuesdays will be continued next week, hopefully…

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, what is it you do all day?

I’ve been living here for a little over a year and, by default, I am a “hausfrau” (housewife). Which means I’m supposed to be an apron wearing June Cleaver and have the house spotless, dinner cooked, shirts ironed, wearing pearls and greeting my husband as soon as he walks through the door. That may be how some cultures look at it, but it’s not how I see it.

I’ve straddled two cultures my whole life and now a third one has been added to the mix. It can be confusing and frustrating. Growing up, my mom strongly encouraged my sister and me to find a husband and take care of him by doing all the above. However, I spent most of my twenties in long term relationships with Asian men and was adamant that traditional gender roles weren’t anything I was interested in and wanted a partnership where everything was equal. It’s how a marriage should be, and I was determined that my future husband understood and supported that.

In American culture, it’s safe to say that gender roles have been modernized and evolved- splitting all household responsibilities. I’ve found that Austrians are big on traditional gender roles. When we were moving in, our landlord’s daughter was going showing us the flat with us and somehow ironing came up. Hubs was quick to say that he did his own ironing. She was shocked. From what I gather, women do most of the household chores for the men and family here.

I’m so thankful to have a husband that doesn’t believe in traditional roles. We both cook. He’s actually a better cook than I am, but a disaster when it comes to baking. That is where my strong point is, so I do most of the baking. Since he’s OCD  about how the house should be cleaned-he does most of it, where I do the maintenance cleaning in between. Gender roles don’t exist in our household nor does Hubs expect them of me. It’s disheartening when we reveal this stuff to people and they say things like “then what do you have a wife for” or “what does your wife do all day?”. It makes me feel like I’m useless and not doing anything right. Being an expat is already hard enough, but to be defined as traditional housewife and not living up to it makes me feel disappointment in myself at times. It takes me back to poignant moments in my life where I’ve been told, “I’m not good enough” and “you will never amount to anything”. Just to be clear, I was raised in a traditional Asian household where these words are suppose to drive you to succeed (tiger mom reverse psychology warfare). No matter where it’s coming from, it still hurts and makes you question your worthiness.

So, it brings me to- what is it that you do all day? I’ve recently started to learn Spanish twice a week, I’m constantly trying to improve and come up with new ideas for my blog, going out with new friends I’ve made, museum-hopping, learning new skills, finding new hobbies, and even joined a book club. I may not be doing the typical hausfrau things, but I’m challenging myself every day with opportunities that I may not have had the time for or would necessarily try. I’m enriching my life and feel like it counts for something. For the first time in my life, I’m truly putting myself first and learning slowly, that it’s okay to do so.