Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Featured in Verge Magazine!

thanks, verge!
Thank you to the lovely folks at Verge Magazine for featuring our blog in their Winter 2012 edition!

For ten years, Verge has concentrated on stories about travel with purpose, exploring opportunities to work, study and volunteer abroad. Verge magazine is available in both print and digital editions. Check them out here.

- Mike & Jess
p.s. happy leap day.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Guest Post at Explore. Dream. Discover

 explore.  dream.  discover.

I'm guest posting about life in Malta over at Explore. Dream. Discover today (formerly From Portland to Peonies), a blog by the lovely Liz who moved from Portland, Oregon, to Amsterdam with her husband Corey and their (adorable) Frenchton dog Henry last year.

Liz and Corey are currently in Seville and I'm so pleased she asked me to fill in for her.

Thanks Liz, and safe travels!

- Jess
p.s. If you've wandered over here from Liz's blog, welcome! I hope you'll stay awhile.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Sunrise, Sliema

I've written about the gorgeous sunsets in Malta here and posted pictures last summer here but sunrise is really my favourite time of day. When we are traveling (even though early morning flights are a pain) I love walking through a city, suitcase in tow, while the streets are empty save for early morning delivery vans full of produce or fresh loafs of bread.

I love the quiet of sunrise, and the feeling that today is new and anything can happen.

I used to roll my eyes a little when people gushed about the quality of light in this or that place. But once you've travelled a bit you begin to understand. A winter light in Canada is far different from that in Malta, and even more different from Malta's summer light. The blue of the sky is different too.

It is still one of my favourite things about this place that the sunshine and the limestone interact in a way that makes the whole country glow during sunset and sunrise. Mike and I call it the magic time of day, and when one of us notices that glow (happening right now at 5:30 pm as I'm writing) we say it's the magic time.

Are you rolling your eyes yet?

- Jess

sunrise on the strand

sunrise in sliema
the first sun of the day in sliema. magic.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Jess: Favourite Vienna moments + Vienna in photos

Favourite Vienna moments:
  1. Three course Valentine's lunch at Le Loft, Vienna with a view over the Viennese skyline. The sun came out for the first time all weekend and we had an unparalleled view of the Stephansdom cathedral's amazing roof. It was perfect.
  2. Guided audio tour of Schonbrunn Palace. This felt like touring the most incredible and intimate family home. Plus you can't beat the 'crowds' in February. We practically had the place to ourselves.
  3. Skating at Rathaus (City Hall). I played photographer while Mike and Jan took a lap of the huge outdoor skating complex. It was a fantastic glimpse into how the Viennese make the most of winter.
  4. Visiting the Albertina Museum. Two impressive exhibitions were on view: Impressionism drawings and watercolours, and Magritte. The exhibitions were superb, and the Bellinis at the museum cafe weren't bad either.
  5. Seeing the ballet at the Vienna State Opera House. We felt truly Viennese attending this incredible show of athleticism and artistry. Plus the people watching wasn't bad either. Viennese ladies certainly know how to dress for the ballet, dahling.
  6. Watching Mike learn German. Anything containing an accidental obscene reference was particularly amusing to him. The highway sign for ausfahrt (exit) sent him into a fit of giggles every time. It was a good reminder to lighten up when I was getting particularly grumpy about the cold. Which reminds me, it was 2.7°C/36.9°F colder in Malta than it should have been in the month of February. Yes, an average of 9.6°C/49.3°F isn't cold, per say, but still. Summer can't come soon enough.
- Jess

cafe europe, stephansplatz, vienna

zipfer, local austrian beer (good)

stephansplatz, vienna

cafe at kunsthistoriches museum, book (three weeks!) in advance for sunday lunch

kunsthistoriches museum, vienna

kunsthistoriches museum, vienna

vienna state opera house

vienna state opera house

vienna, home of mozart

ballet at the vienna state opera

stephansdom, vienna

stephansdom, vienna 
rathaus/city hall, vienna
ice skating at city hall, vienna

that is a genuine smile, because i was wearing jan's down coat and for the first time all weekend i was warm.

schonbrunn palace

rachel whiteread's monument to the holocaust, judenplatz, vienna
valentine's lunch at le loft, vienna (incredible 18th storey view of the city)

rathaus/city hall 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mike: A weekend in Vienna in Words

The last stop on our Austrian road trip was Vienna. Jan (my mom) did most of the driving from Mayrhofen to Vienna but we changed drivers once we approached the city. Our rental car came equipped with Bridget (a nice GPS persona who couldn't quite master the pronunciation of German street names) who guided me to the two-bedroom apartment that we rented for the weekend. We stayed just on the outskirts of the Inner Stadt (city center). Once we got to the apartment the owner met us with keys and informed us that the elevator (lift) was broken and we would get to carry our luggage (3 bags, 50lbs each) up 7 very long, uneven, centuries old flights of stairs.

Ah, Europe.

Once we were settled we completely failed at finding groceries on a Saturday evening (everything shuts at 6:00PM in case you were wondering) and eventually went out to Café Europe in Stephensplatz for dinner. Their food was quite good and thankfully I had read online that you should go upstairs in the non-smoking room if you do not want the nicotine/tar/tobacco taste included in your dinner. Wait, that enhances the flavour of your schnitzel, right?

The next day we went to the Kunsthistoriches (art history) museum. We were also able to find one of the four grocery stores in the entire city of Vienna that is open on Sundays. Vienna's population is 2 million people, so you do the math and imagine how much fun shopping cart/trolley derby with a thousand other frantic Sunday shoppers was. If you're ever in Vienna, get your groceries before 6pm  Saturday. And if you're desperate/crazy, the grocery stores open on Sundays are located in train stations and airports.

Saturday evening we went to the State Opera house to see a ballet. I’ve been dragged to a lot of ballets, symphonies, musicals, concerts, and Sharon Lois and Bram events (okay, the last one was my idea circa 1994). I other words, I've had so much exposure to the 'arts' that I actually enjoy, have taken part in, and can recognize when such performances are good.

The ballet was something French from the 1950’s and although I have no idea what/why they were dancing, it was quite entertaining. But the people attending the ballet were almost just as entertaining. When people moved or clapped when they shouldn’t, they were promptly shushed. Old ladies who obviously go to performances every week also had very effective and well-timed claps and “Bravo’s!” and liked to dance around in their seats and pretend that they were conducting the orchestra.

The reason that I may not have understood the ballet was probably that I was watching the old lady in front of me watch the ballet instead.

The next two days were spent visiting the Albertina art museum, the Vienna cathedral, Schonbrunn Palace, and anywhere else that was open and warm.

It was nice to spend some time travelling with Jan but I think our family has decided that winter travel in European cities (during cold snaps) is not quite worth the effort/frost bite. 

Jess and I have now spent the last two Valentine’s Days travelling with our families/mothers, which doesn't leave a lot of room for romance. Next year, no visitors on February 14th please. It makes me look like an ass.

- Mike

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Mauthausen-Gusen Concentration Camp, Austria

While driving from Mayrhofen to Vienna Mike, his mum, and I stopped at Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp, 20 kilometers outside Linz in Upper Austria. Mauthausen operated from 1938 to 1945, and was responsible for the deaths of over 100,000 people. It was one of the largest labour camp complexes in German controlled Europe during WWII and directed over 50 sub-camps in Austria and Germany. Its inmates were used as slave labour. They were literally worked to death.

This was my first visit to a concentration camp. It was both everything and nothing like I expected it to be. How do you put it into words?

The most surprising thing I learned at Mauthausen was that a brothel was set up in the camp and used to manipulate prisoners by 'rewarding' them for good behaviour. The women in the brothel were also inmates, shipped to Mauthausen from other camps and shipped out after six months of unimaginable living conditions. But leaving Mauthausen wasn't respite. These women often contracted sexually transmitted diseases and, like most ill prisoners, were not treated but executed when they returned to their original camps. Unimaginable.  

I walked around the camp with Mike, frozen to the bone, as my audioguide told me prisoners were often forced to line up for roll call in the camp's main square for hours, or even days. In the winter. In that cold. Unimaginable. 

They slaved at a nearby rock quarry for 12 hours a day, malnourished and psychologically and physically abused, until they died.  Unimaginable.

They were forced to walk into electrified barbed wire fences, burnt and tortured until they died. They were shot point-blank, froze to death, starved, and were gassed. Unimaginable.

Places like Mauthausen are so important to visit. If not only to remember the atrocities of WWII, but to recall that no human, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, or race, should suffer at the hands of another. Even when that utopian kind of world seems unimaginable.
- Jess

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Salzburg, Austria

We took a quick trip to Salzburg while in Austria last week and wandered the streets of the centuries old city, visited the Salzburg museum, cathedral, and Hohensalzburg castle. It was a lovely day trip and a great chance to spend time with Mike's parents, who were super-troopers having just gotten over the stomach flu. Seriously, not one complaint. I now know where Mike gets it from.

Salzburg is home of the Sound of Music, and was the backdrop for the 1965 film. Did you know that at the end of the film when the von Trapp family hikes over a mountain to Switzerland to escape the Nazis, they are actually climbing a mountain outside Salzburg that leads straight to Germany? Switzerland is on the other side of Austria. These are the kind of facts you learn when your boyfriend is a walking encyclopedia. 
- Jess
ps - tomorrow - Mauthausen concentration camp.

schmuck means jewelry in german.
lunch at the salzburg museum cafe with mike's parents

view of salzburg from the funicular to hohensalzburg castle
marionette museum, hohensalzburg castle
torture chamber, hohensalzburg castle

salzburg skyline
hohensalzburg castle skyline

salzburg cathedral dome, rebuilt after wwii

salzburg cathedral