Austria’s Imperial Wieners, I mean City

Vienna in German is Wien. Every time I read it in German all I see is wine. In German it’s pronounced “ween”. You say wine, I say ween. No, I say wine, you say red or white? And if we happen to be in Vienna I’ll say wiener until my head falls off from childish laughter.

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It’s like that time I went to Hamburg and everyone was a hamburger.

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Or when I’m in Berlin surrounded by Berliners (a Berliner is a doughnut. Mmmmm, doughnuts.)

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(pic above from Dies und das.com)

Okay enough about wieners and hamburgers and doughnuts. Let’s get back to wine, I mean Wien, I mean Vienna. Christian and I had a little bit of time to explore Vienna before and after our trip to Croatia. After our first overnight in Vienna we headed towards St. Charles Church (Karlskirche), an 18th century church with a fantastic view of the painted dome.

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(Pic above: What is this? A church for pigs-in-a-blanket?  The building has to be at least 3 times bigger than this!  Model replica of St. Charles Church and what I believe Zoolander would think about it.)

In order to see the painting on the dome up close, you have to take an elevator which leads to a catwalk which leads to a couple of sets of wooden stairs on a scaffold which could lead to an anxiety attack or a leak in your pants if you hate heights as much as I do.  When we stepped off of the elevator I started moving slower then all of the old people already up there. I was literally grasping the rails lining the stairs with sweaty palms. The sweetest thing about Christian at this moment was that he didn’t push me. He didn’t get annoyed with me. I never felt insecure or rushed. He just kept reassuring me that at anytime I wanted to turn around, I could. But I didn’t want to miss out on seeing something I’d never seen before, so I kept climbing. Grandmas and grandpas were passing me on my flight upwards, but I eventually made it. And it was worth it. We were so close to the old paintings on the dome and we could also see a spectacular view of Vienna out of the dome  windows.

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After our visit to St. Charles Church we had a quick lunch at a sushi restaurant (being pregnant, nothing raw for me) and we headed towards Croatia.

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On our way back to Germany from Croatia we had our second overnight stay in Vienna. The following morning afforded us a little bit more time than our first layover in Vienna, so we opted for a hop-on hop-off Vienna bus tour. We chose the Big Bus Tour simply because we had already used the same company when we vacationed in London. We grabbed our audio guides and took front row seats in the upper deck of the bus.

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The audio guide always provides a lot of information and history about the city but the only facts that I could hold onto were about Adolf Hitler. We saw a hotel where he used to work and a place he used to live. That just blew my mind for the rest of the tour.

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We were close enough to Budapest and Bratislava?!  Gah, I need to learn my geography for this part of the world.

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(Pics below: Danube River, or in German, the D0nau… Christian said he had no idea what a Danube was.  I said I didn’t know what a Donau was.  You say Donau, I say Danube.)

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The architecture of Vienna is impressive.  There are a plethora of sculpted buildings on every corner.  Art buildings, government buildings, churches, theaters… you name it, the Wieners got it.  And we fully enjoyed what the Wieners had to offer.  Tee hee.

21 Pictures That Will Put Croatia on Your Bucket List

Croatia was an unexpected vacation destination for me.  But after spending a week there, it has become THAT vacation spot I hope we visit annually and get to know better over the years.

It is now my mental escape from reality when I want to calm down and relax. (These pictures, along with the smell of sunblock, will come in handy when I go into labor in about 2 weeks – ahhh, 38 weeks pregnant and SO ready to be comfortable again!). Enjoy.

These first 11 pictures were taken directly in front of our AirBnb rental, close to the town of Mimice.  It’s about 20 miles south of Split and my new favorite place in the world.  This is where we spent most of our time – sunbathing in lounge chairs and floats and chasing fish right off shore.

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If you love wine, I’ve heard (and seen) that Croatia is a great place to try new wines.  I was pregnant when we visited, so I didn’t get to taste any wine – what the crap?!  But it’s on my list for the next time we visit.

Below: Grape vines growing and shading the walkway from our room to the water.  We picked and ate a handful of grapes from them each day – the closest thing to wine I could consume.

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The next 11 pictures are from our boat tour.  We spent a day on a sailboat, traveling to different parts of Croatia – Hvar, Brac and the Pakleni Islands.  We booked a tour through Summer Blues and enjoyed 3 open water stops where we could dive into the Adriatic Sea and swim around for a bit. Warning: If you book this tour and love to swim, be prepared to ride a bus around Brac AFTER taking a dip in the ocean – we had to ride along in wet bathing suits.  Luckily, we brought very fat towels with us and sat on them during the bus ride from port to the old town of Stari Grad.

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Below: Stari Grad, in a semi-wet bathing suit.

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Below: View of Hvar from the island’s fortress.

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Below: View from Hvar’s port.  It was so gorgeous here.

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Below: On our way to the Pakleni Islands for another swim.

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Romantical boat time:

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And if you’re not yet convinced to go to Croatia, here’s that +1 pic that should do the job:

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Chances of meeting a dominatrix in normal life – not so good.  Chances of meeting a dominatrix during your boat trip in Croatia – likely.  Well, for us anyway.  She was tall, dark-skinned, donned a white wig and had a distaste for 50 Shades of Gray.

Road Trip to Croatia

I have to admit my naivety about Eastern European countries. I have a lot of it. When I started working at MPI, it seemed like everyone was talking about taking vacations in Croatia. I had no idea where Croatia was… north, east, south? Is Croatia even a country? What happened to Yugoslavia? I was at a geographical disadvantage. To me, it sounded like a second world country (maybe it still is??) and I imagined it being forever cold, dark and rainy. Have you ever seen that thriller movie Hostel? I actually never watched it because someone gave me the synopsis once and I said “Ah hellll no!” But I did see a short clip of it.  The backpackers made it to Slovenia and were searching for their hostel. The movie portrays Slovenia as a very grey, cold, industrial type country with what looked like a lot of run down factories. I imagined crack junkies at every corner, waiting for a drug dealer to stroll on by. This is how I envisioned Croatia before I researched it myself. Turns out Croatia is beautiful. And Slovenia has some of the nicest highways I’ve been on in Europe.

Christian and I decided to take the car to Croatia from Germany instead of flying. We usually fly everywhere but this time we opted to take the car because flight prices were too high and we could pack the car with tons of stuff. Google maps told us it would take about 10 hours of driving time, but you know Google maps lies. We decided on a route through the Czech Republic, around Prague with an overnight stop in Vienna, Austria both ways. Neither of us had ever been to Vienna, so naturally we were curious to explore yet another new place together. Want to know what we did in Vienna? (I’ll add the post here once it’s finished.)

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I wanted Croatia to be a relaxing vacation time, one where we mostly stayed at our hotel and swam all day, so I did a lot of research on places to rent that were very close to the water’s edge. I love staying in smaller towns away from most of the tourists and since we had the car this time the possibilities were numerous. I found that Croatia doesn’t really have sandy beaches, they have more rocky terrain leading out to sea. While using the map search function on AirB&B I found the perfect place in Marušići.  It was about 20 miles from Split and just off the edge of the water. We booked it for an entire week, hoping and anticipating a lot of R&R. We packed the car full of swimsuits, shorts, water shoes, t-shirts, sunglasses, magazines, books, sunblock, snorkel gear and water floats. We were ready for some fun in the sun. Now all we had to do was get there.

The drive from Germany through the Czech Republic on a Friday afternoon is something I never want to do it again. Holy hell. Every 5 miles it seemed a car had broken down. The roads were in horrible shape and there was traffic in both directions. We thought it would take us 5 hours, but in reality we were stuck on the road for 6.5 hours. See Google maps? You don’t know what you’re talking about.

We made it to our overnight stay in Vienna around 10 PM. I was ecstatic to get out of the car and crash in a comfortable bed.

After a good nights rest we used the early morning hours to explore a little bit of the city and then we continued our journey southeast. I learned a new word in preparing for this road trip down south. Vignette. Before we left Germany we had to buy basically a road tax sticker for each country we planned on driving through. So Christian’s car windshield was plastered with vignettes for the Czech Republic, Austria and Slovenia. Who knew you had to buy these things? Not me. I’m an American. We drive where we want and don’t pay for anything. Toll roads? No thanks. I don’t live in Florida anymore. I’m glad Christian knew where to buy these stickers before we left because otherwise we would’ve had to stop at each border to purchase one. And after driving through the Czech Republic the day before, I was ready to reach our final destination as fast as possible. Road trips are not my favorite.

As we approached the Austrian-Slovenian border Christian and I became a bit anxious. We had already agreed there would be NO STOPPING in Slovenia. Empty bladders in Austria, check. For me this was because of that movie, Hostel. I’m not sure why Christian agreed but when he did, my absurd feelings about Slovenia were confirmed. We drove through without stopping. But as we were driving we noticed the roads where 10 times nicer than any of the roads in the Czech Republic or Austria. And there was hardly any traffic. Slovenia didn’t seem so bad. Since then I’ve learned that Slovenia has some really awesome camping and hiking spots. Have you ever been there? Any traveling tips or pointers are welcome.

By the time we reached Split, Croatia it was dark outside. We drove about 20 more miles along the coast until we reached Mimice. This is where our directions became a bit confusing. We knew the small town we were staying in was called Marušići but I thought it was part of Mimice. We both saw a street sign indicating we needed to turn left in order to get to Mimice. So we turned left, away from water and into a mountain. The GPS told us we were five minutes away from our destination and I was getting excited. But as we continued down, errr up, the road we seemed to be heading further and further away from the water and more into the face of a mountain. Tom-Tom said, “continue straight ahead.” The only thing straight ahead of us by now was a bunch of dirt and rocky terrain on the edge of a mountain cliff. My excitement morphed into fear.

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Picture above: The cliffs we drove through – look high above the blue railing.

What the hell Tom-Tom? Christian’s car was sporting its summer tires and sat so low to the ground that we had to drive 5 mph along the mountain cliff on a dirt road in the middle the night not knowing where we were headed or how to get back down the mountain. There were no road signs and no other cars. Just us and Tom-Tom. Tom-Tom lowered our collective IQ and we became a foolish threesome. We probably creeped along the dirt road cliff for 15 minutes but in my high anxiety state it felt like hours. I kept looking out my window, straight down the side of the cliff while Tom-Tom reassured us we were going the right way. If I looked out a bit further I could see the Adriatic Sea. And I could see us tumbling down the mountain into the sea, trapped in Christian’s low-rider.

“That’s where we need to be babe! How do we get there? Don’t ask Tom-Tom. He knows nothing.” I was freaking out. We contemplated turning around but it seemed impossible with Christian’s car so low to the ground and the rocky road being so narrow. Plus with that idiot Tom-Tom telling us we were almost there, we tossed away a few more brain cells and put our faith in the GPS. Another 15 minutes and Hallelujah! the dirt road ended. We were back on paved ground. I have never been so relieved to see a street light. We ditched Tom-Tom and figured out that we had passed Marušići  overhead while inside the mountain cliff, so we backtracked on the paved road and finally reached our AirB&B twenty-five hellish (or hill-ish) minutes later than expected. Sigh of relief. Let the R&R begin. I just had to sleep through one more night and then I knew we would wake up to the most amazing view of turquoise blue water and sunshine.

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The morning view from our balcony:

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Peace and serenity found in a highly unexpected place (well, unexpected for this naive Westerner!).  Can I stay here forever?

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Our Croation R&R vacation pictures are posted here.  Happy Adventure time!

Whit’s fur ye’ll no go past ye.

Whatever is meant to happen to you will happen to you.

Christian and I made our trip to Scotland in July 2016. We flew into Edinburgh and stayed there one night. We had a chance to explore Edinburgh while the sun was still out, making our way up Calton Hill and enjoying an amazing view of the city.

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I had a funny feeling in my stomach while we were on top of the hill that Christian was going to propose to me. It was the day of our anniversary and he was being a stickler about climbing the tower on top of the hill. We found out we needed cash in order to climb the tower but we didn’t have any Scottish cash – errrr pounds – in our pockets and Christian seemed really bummed. I kept telling him we could come back the next morning and he kept insisting the trip atop Calton Hill wasn’t so spectacular anymore. This sent the funny feeling to my stomach because he never acts like that and I got a bit anxious the rest of the time we were on the hill.

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But no proposal came as you might have already guessed if you’ve already read the previous Scotland blog. I wasn’t the least bit disappointed because I knew he would find a way to make the proposal great if, in fact, he was going to propose to me on our Scotland trip. So we enjoyed the views on top of the hill sans tower and then made our way back to our cute little hotel room at The Hub by Premier Inn.

For our anniversary that night, I signed us up for a spooky night tour of Edinburgh underground (City of the Dead Tours). Okay okay, not so romantic but it was uniquely interesting and fun to learn about the historic underground vaults where many poor and disadvantaged people were forced to live in the 18th century. Imagine trying to live in a tiny stone confined space with 200 other people. There are no bathrooms – only a bucket in the corner that gets emptied once a day. There are no beds. If you’re lucky you were given days-old, used hay to sleep on – so it usually smelled of pig manure. There are no lights and no windows. You are literally living under the South Bridge of Edinburgh. After the informative guide through the city and the vaults we were treated to a couple of ghost stories while inside the confined spaces underground. Apparently the vaults are haunted. I recommend this tour to anyone who has time in Edinburgh.  It’s only £11.00 and the guide is extremely entertaining.

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After our one night in Edinburgh, we headed towards Fort William and the Highlands. Our drive was so picturesque and the grass was so green – as expected because of all of the rain.

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We stayed in a cozy AirBnB near Ben Nevis mountain. Wanna stay in the same place?  Check out the link.

From here we explored castle ruins on a rainy day and contemplated hiking up Ben Nevis.

But the rain never let up and I was getting sick on top of being two months pregnant. So we decided to skip the hike and just enjoy our cozy air B&B. I absolutely fell in love with our cottage.

From our AirB&B we also took a drive out to Glenfinnan where the viaduct from Harry Potter can be seen. Christian had no idea that the train we were about to see travel over the viaduct is featured in Harry Potter. I’m not a Harry Potter fanatic but it is really a beautiful place to visit and the anticipation of seeing the train from such a famous movie was enticing.

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After watching the train go by twice, we started our walk back down to the car.  Christian stopped me on a bridge just below the viaduct. The water under the bridge was moving very fast due to all of the rain that was still coming down from the sky. I wondered if we’d get another dry day during our trip.

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So back to Christian stopping me – he started acting all funny and I knew what was coming.

I said, “Babe are you nervous?”

He said he was and I told him not to be nervous. With the umbrella in my hand and the gushing water below he began to tell me why he was in love with me. Yet, the only thing I can remember him saying is how our relationship is like the running water below the bridge. He said our relationship was moving as fast as the water. I laughed because I knew this is not what he meant in English. There was something in German that he was trying to express to me in English and it just wasn’t translating correctly. But I couldn’t let him off the hook.

I said jokingly, “So you think our relationship is moving too fast? Maybe we should slow down.”

He said no that’s not what he meant – he meant our relationship flowed easily and he loved it – and the next thing I knew he was on one knee opening a ring box and asking “Will you marry me?”

I cried happy tears as I said “Yes, of course!” I continued to cry a little bit more as he told me he had asked my dad for permission to marry me. He had also talked to my sister-in-law, Jessica, to make sure he didn’t miss any American engagement traditions. It was so sweet. Definitely an unforgettable moment and a unique and inspiring place on earth to become engaged. We got engaged in Scotland!!

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Over the next couple of days we made our way through Inverness, searched for the Loch Ness monster, explored another castle, trekked through Aberdeen and made our way back to Edinburgh enjoying one day without rain and many with the rain.

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It was a fun-filled 7 day adventure and a wonderful place to celebrate a life transition.

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The Naked Garden – Cossebaude

August 2015:

Our annual lab retreat was last week (last week – like back in August). This year we went stand up paddle boarding at a lake in Cossebaude. It’s a cute little German town with vibrantly colored cement houses about 20 minutes west of Dresden.

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It was a lot of fun and very tiring, which is why I chose to paddle on my knees for some of the time.  I didn’t fall off my board once!  It was much easier to paddle in this lake than it was in the ocean.  The only drawback was ALL OF THE NAKED PEOPLE.

You read it right.  Naked.  People.  Everywhere.  Ok, not everywhere.  There is a designated section for the FKK or Frei Körperkultur (free body culture).  This section happened to neighbor the stand-up paddle boarding shop and launch area.  You have to literally walk through the naked garden every time you want to go to the SUP area.  There is no way around it!  You HAVE to walk through it, while naked people flank you left and right. This culture is normal in East Germany and the people here think nothing of it. But me – ohhhhh my brain was a-tickin’ the entire time it was in the naked garden.

“Oh my gosh!”

“Look at that!”

“How old is that guy?”

“That’s what your boobs look like when you get old?”

“The hair is white!  It all goes white?!”

I just could not get over it… Naked people walking around like normal. Guys and girls sunbathing completely nude, letting it ALL hang out.  They even walked around and mingled with each other.  One nekkie lady was reading the newspaper on a concrete step for a couple of minutes, then got up and walked over to a much older nekkie man and engaged in a conversation.  I wonder if they were family.  Gaaahhh-rossss.

Christian and I went back to the same lake for a swim the following Saturday.

I know what you’re thinking – WOOOHOO!  More Naked Garden time.  Balls.  Sunbathing balls.

My thoughts, exactly.

Iceland – Last Day ,Blue Lagoon

Before I moved to Germany, I added a picture of the Blue Lagoon to my Pinterest board.  It was a hope and a dream of mine to visit it and I thought it would always remain a dream.  But now I was standing outside the lagoon, waiting to collect my towel and admission bracelet!

This place is pretty high tech.  They even have an online video about how the visits work and how the bracelet works for everything – opening your locker, getting your algae mask, paying for beer at the swim-up bar, etc.  After receiving my bracelet, I made my way to the locker room to suit up… errr, suit off.  You’re required to shower sans bathing suit before entering the lagoon and I recommend slathering on the hair conditioner and leaving it in as you wade around the pool.  The silicon in the lagoon will make your hair extremely dry.

Freshly showered and suited up, I made the COLD walk outside to the lagoon to find my family.  They had all beat me to the water.  How?  How did they survive the 35F air temperature and wind from the locker room to the lagoon??  Brrrr!  I quickly placed my towel in the correct spot and continued my chilly walk to the edge of the lagoon.  My toes were immediately warmed by the bluish grayish water.  FINALLY!  I made it in to the 98F water.  And I wasn’t coming out!

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Christian and I floated around the entire lagoon, exploring under bridges and around rocks.  It was actually quite smaller than I had imagined it to be, but it was nice to experience the lagoon with him – strapped to his back, relaxing and reflecting on the amazing adventures we had in Iceland.  We soon began to realize that some spots in the lagoon were much warmer than others and we’d huddle in those warmer spots a bit longer.

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We found the mud mask station and slathered on some white goop – covering our faces and blending in with everyone else in the lagoon.  The wind was really kicking and I could really feel it on my face and shoulders.  The sun kept playing hide and seek.  Hint: Bring sunscreen!  It may not protect you from wind burn, but your face will thank you later.  After 15 minutes of mud masking, we washed the thick clay off and went back to the mask station for our algae fix.  After the algae mask, my face felt soooooo smooth.  Thank you Mother Nature.

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Check out the lifeguard in the pic above!  The lifeguards were dressed in down jackets with fur, long warm pants and yellow vests marked ‘Lifeguard’ on the back.  Culture shock.

My dad and Annie found a place out of the wind AND close to the bar.  What a coincidence. So we joined them and swam up to the beverage bar for our free 1st beverage.  A Gull beer.  At 10am.  What?

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We spent 3 hours in the lagoon, wading around, enjoying the Gulls, playing with the GoPro.  It was very relaxing and enjoyable.  And though I probably would not return – once in a lifetime is enough for me for such a touristy place – I was really happy to have found a picture of the Blue Lagoon intriguing enough to plan an entire Icelandic Adventure for me and my family.  Thanks for the inspiration Pinterest.

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