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!

 

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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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…

 

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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Aloha, Seattle!

After having lived abroad for almost three years, getting a chance to go back to the U.S is always a treat. I have more appreciation for everything and anything around, no matter how good or bad. Hubs and I planned our trek back to the U.S. a little differently this time around. If you can recall from one of my Throwback Thursday posts, we have always said that we wanted to move or settle back on the west coast when our time in Europe is done.

The Pacific Northwest is our kryptonite. Specifically, Seattle. We were going to spend two weeks in Washington State, but I came up with a crazier idea. Hubs and I have never been to Hawaii and seeing that it was another six hour flight from Seattle, we decided to go for it.

We spent our first few days in Seattle to recoup from jet-lag. And if you’re an expat, let’s face it, we stock up on boatloads of stuff when we return to our home country for a visit. That’s exactly what Hubs and I did. We shopped ’til we dropped, all the while checking out neighborhoods. It was glorious to be back in the land of consumerism.  We didn’t go as crazy as the last time and only had to purchase one extra suitcase this time around.

Now, onto the main attraction of this trip. Ah, Hawaii. We decided to stay on the island of Oahu. Our AirBnB was only two blocks away from Waikiki beach and all the action. When we arrived, our senses went into overdrive. Our first meal was a Japanese place that served a dish called tonkatsu. It was so delicious that Hubs and I agreed it was the best outside of Asia. What a great start to the week in paradise!

Hubs has always wanted to learn how to surf, so I arranged for him to receive a private surf lesson. I was happy that he got his dream. He had so much fun that he returned and rented a surf board to “practice” some more.

Friends advised not to stay on just one beach during our stay. Hubs and I had rented a car so that we could explore the island and visit the different beaches.  Many people might not know this about me, but I can’t swim. That didn’t deter me from enjoying little dips into the turquoise waters of every beach we came across. It was so warm and refreshing. I also loved the feel of the fine sand between my toes. Was I in heaven?

The absolute highlight for me was to see a Hawaiian sea turtle. There are laws protecting these beautiful creatures, so we had to be at least ten feet away from the turtles at all times. The turtle that we came across has been tracked and her favorite spot to rest is cordoned off, and has volunteers help protect her from certain crazy tourists. I was in awe.

Besides all of the above, we also hired a small local company to take us on a food tour of the island. It was a great day learning about Hawaiian culture and tasting the food. We also got great restaurant recommendations for the rest of our stay in Honolulu. And what was the kitschy tourist attraction we were suckered into while on this trip you ask? Well, we couldn’t very well come halfway across the world and not go to a luau! After all, I really wanted to get “lei’d”. I know, so silly, but it made me giddy with joy.

It was tough getting on that Hawaiian Airlines flight back to Seattle, because it meant our time in the U.S. was coming to a close. We spent our last two nights back in Seattle to finish off last minute errands and do a few touristy things. We had ourselves a wonderful time and I’m missing the Aloha spirit as I type this.

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Spectacular Santorini (Part One)

Santorini is a beautiful island in the Aegean Sea. It’s a caldera that is shaped into what it is today because of a volcanic eruption that happened in the 16th century. There are no words to describe the beauty of Santorini. Just imagine white washed buildings, not a cloud in the sky, friendly Greeks and the bluest of blue waters and it sounds like heaven doesn’t it?

Another perk of living in Vienna? Direct flights (during high season) into Greek islands that otherwise would have needed a stop in Athens. All it took was a two hour flight to get to paradise. Amazing! There was quite a hiccup on our flight there, but we got to spend the next few days in a beautiful place. It was so relaxing, our five days felt like double that.

We stayed in the capital of Fira. The iconic blue domes can be found in the town of Oia (pronounced e-ya). Hubs and I explored both extensively. There were buses you could take from one town to the other, which was quite convenient (and cheap!). We also spent a morning exploring one of the many beaches on the island.  Santorini is not really known for its beaches. If you’re looking for white sandy beaches, you’ll be disappointed. The beaches are pebbled with volcanic rocks and coarse sands.  Getting in and out of the water can be a challenge if you don’t have water shoes. Plus, the bottom drops off very quickly, but you can see the bottom up to 10 feet or so.  Hubs ended up wearing his flip-flops in the water to protect his feet from the rocks.

The sunsets every night were magical and left us in a silent awe. The food was amazing. The hospitality of the Greek people was a nice change from Vienna. All in all, it was a great vacation and hopefully we can return again in the future.

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London: Spring in Our Step

Living in Vienna has afforded me the opportunity to have a love affair with London. So much so, that I have returned on a number of occasions.  It’s a great metropolitan city that has things that Vienna doesn’t, such as: great shopping and a vast selection of international cuisines (which taste the way they should). A girlfriend and I planned to take advantage of both when we visited last weekend.

Emily and I arrived on a Friday night and had a “late night” snack at an Indian place right around the corner from our hotel near Earl’s Court. As we walked in, the place permeated in delicious scents. We were quickly seated and both decided to order thalis- it’s what the place is known for. It was a great and delectable start to our fun weekend!

I have been to London in the Winter, Fall and Summer and this is the first time in the Spring for both Emily and me. It’s a lovely time to go. The trees are in bloom and the weather is pleasant. So what did we do on a lovely spring afternoon in London? High tea of course! We decided to have afternoon tea at the first seating time, because if you’ve been to tea in London before,  you know it’s practically a meal in itself. It was so relaxing and filling.

After tea, we burned some calories shopping at Selfridges and checking out SoHo. We continued with our eating and shopping throughout the city the next day and hopped back on the plane to come home to our families. It was an amazingly fun trip and I can’t wait for more adventures with such a great friend.

 

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Fun in Formosa

It’s been 18 months since our last trip to Taiwan. It seemed like ages ago, especially for our family and friends there. Again, Hubs and I coordinated with my immediate family so that we could all be there around the same time. This time we were only there for about two weeks (a far cry from almost a month visit last time).

Hubs and I flew the well respected Emirates Airlines and the customer service, which the carrier is known for, did not disappoint on all of our flights. We came to the conclusion, a long time ago, that most international carriers still have some form of customer service and we have avoided flying on any American based carrier for years now. It really makes the flying experience much more pleasant.

Taipei has always been a second home to me. After all, I spent all my summers there while growing up. My roots are there. I’ve always been proud to say that I’m Taiwanese. I was really excited for this trip and to see my family. Hubs and I had such a great time again that it was really hard to leave. Hubs has even said “My heart is in Taipei”, which really surprised me.

Friends and family were definitely priority number one for our visit.  However, priority “1a” was the food.  There are so many dishes there that remind me of “home”, that you can’t get in Vienna (or Maryland, too).  There was Shabu Shabu (hot pot), beef or pork chop noodle soup, dim sum, ‘xiaolongbao’, and also Taiwanese dishes only served on the island.  What we can’t get here, we made sure to have plenty of times to hold us over until our next visit.  We are hoping to make another trip back soon, and not wait 18-24 months again.

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