28 December 2010

The Hapsburg Crypt, Staatsoper, Pfudl

At my Dad's insistence and a trade-off from the catacombs at St. Stephansdom, we headed to the Capuchin Church that houses the coffins of the Imperial family. The coffins were ornately decorated and quite beautiful, though I was a little nervous about how many people were named "Maria Anna" - a little too close for comfort for my liking.

In the evening we had tickets to Die Fledermaus, which is an operetta, but we actually saw the ballet at the Staatsoper. It was fantastic, though because we had cheap seats, they were partially obscured view and we ended up half standing/crouching to see better for most of it. It was still fantastic and a real treat. The opera house what everything you would hope and think of when thinking of a beautiful opera house, complete with red velvet curtain and live orchestra.

We had put aside some money for a nice dinner out, and given the 7pm curtain time we decided to go with a late dinner. Anthony got Weinner Schnitzel and I got a minute steak with onions, potatoes and some pickels! Our desserts and wine were fantastic as well. It was a fantastic end to the evening and a great change to my usual spaghetti routine in Coutances.

27 December 2010

Sisi Museum, Silver Collection, Imperial Apartments, Leopold

I mentally prepared myself for the day as I have a nasty habit of becoming instantly tired the second I step foot in a museum. It was a museum heavy day with the Sisi Museum, Silver Collection, Imperial Apartments, and the Leopold. Sisi a beloved, late, princess, who has had a myth created about her and her personality after her death, elevated to a near Dianna type status in the country. The Imperial Silver collection shows all the place settings, center pieces and cutlery of the HRE, which is pretty interesting, but was too crowed, and after a certain time becomes "plates, spoons, more plates, serving platter, knives, etc." The Imperial apartments were interesting as well, though similar to the Schonnebrun because they were decorated and inhabited by the same people.

After we headed to the Leopold Museum, which was far too large to me to appreciate. I was pretty museumed out at that point, so I took advantage of many of the chairs in the galleries. A remarkable place, but not my style of art, and not after other museums.

26 December 2010

Schonnebrun and Carriage House

The wind whipped all feeling from our faces as we left the house. While it has mostly been cold while in Vienna, though a few days getting just above freezing, neither of us had encountered anything life that since leaving Kalamazoo. We went as quickly as possible to the castle. It was kind of a madhouse when we got inside. No place we've visited had really been that busy, except for the Schonnebrun. After getting out tickets, we picked up our audio guides and began the tour. The audio guide gives descriptions of the rooms as you pass through the palace, which really helps to bring the place to life, beyond just he beautiful furnishings.

Once finishing the tour, we picked up some food at the still-open Christmas market out in front. We were freezing down to our bones so we quickly made our way over to the carriage house. The carriage house contains some of the most ornate, and many of the surviving carriages from the imperial family. All of them looked like Disney's inspirations for princess movies. I can't imagine seeing one rolling through the streets of Vienna- how magnificent!

Our journey home was quick, as we were hoping to still have 10 fingers and 10 toes by getting home.

25 December 2010

Christmas at St. Stephansdom

While we were free to do anything for Christmas, we decided that a little bit of tradition might be nice. Are Christmas morning we headed to St. Stephansdom, one of the most famous churches in Vienna for a morning service. Somehow I thought that a Catholic Mass in German would remind me of Christmas at home. Wrong. Basically I was kind of cold, confused and tired most of the time. I had no idea what was going on because it was a Catholic Mass and it seemed a little ridiculous that we had to stand up and the cardinal need to take on and off his hat every time he stood up or sat down. That being said, it was an amazing choir and orchestra accompanying the service who were fantastic to hear. after an hour and a half we called it quits and snuck out during communion, with a fair amount of others joining us. It the beginning when we sang "O, Come all ye faithful," it was interesting, but the number of familiar hymns after that sank down to zero, and my interest along with it.

We headed home with small snow flurries falling around us, opened presents, and cooked up a very (not) traditional meal of mashed potatoes, peas and fajitas for Christmas dinner. It was certainly different than other Christmases, but great none the less.

24 December 2010

Spanische Hofreitschule- The Spanish Riding School and Nash Market

We finally started out our day earlier, getting out of the house before noon. Actually to get tickets we had to be at the ticket office when it opened- 9am. We were able to shake our butts out the door in time, actually arriving early and were the first in line. We bought our student tickets to the morning exercise then wandered around a bit before heading back in to get seats. While the morning practices are billed as "Morning Exercise with Music" implying a sort of dress rehearsal, it's closer to what the name actually says. We saw and enjoyed all the the special tricks of the famous Lipizzaner horses, though not as a true show. It was definitely worth the 6 euros each, rather than the 25 each we would have payed for a regular show. Unfortunately, not photos were allowed, so you'll have to google some photos of it.

On the way home we stopped at the Nash Market, which is a HUGE open stall market only one subway stop away from us. We picked up some hummus, pita and falafel along with a few other treats. Coutances has some shwarma places, but not much else by way of "ethnic" food, and there is little for purchase to bring home. It was all AMAZING and I absolutely adored it. For our Christmas Eve dinner we had chinese stir-fry which continued our international food selections for the two days. After that was relaxing Christmas movies at our apartment, with frequent "Can we open the presents yet!?!" from Anthony who is on the early open Christmas Eve tradition.

23 December 2010

Naturhistorisches and Figlmüller

We started out like most days- a Christmas Market! Once getting some snacks and taking a look around we headed into the Museum of Natural History. While the exhibits in the museum are interesting, even more so than that was the beauty of the building. It was absolutely gorgeous and the regal architecture, like that of many places we've seen, brings the experience to a different level. There were huge geology and zoology exhibits. Another great attraction was the "Venus of Willendorf" which is a small plump fertility statue from about 25000 years ago. The second floor had many stuffed animals; polar bears, fish, gazelle, etc. However I got nervous as I saw whale bones framing an entry. Rather than Anthony continuing to scope out every room for me, I waited in the cafe area while he saw the last few exhibits. He reported afterward that there were more whale skeletons so it was best that I took an early departure.

The ceiling of the cafe area- beautiful!

The elephant statue that's in front of the museum and Anthony!

For lunch we went to Figlmüller which is listed in one of our guide books and has a reputation for great Weiner Schnitzel. The lunch was amazing and HUGE. We took home leftovers to have on salad later, though I could barely even eat dinner after that meal.

On the far side is the schnitzel and the closer one is pork medallions with green beans wrapped in bacon and noodles that I ordered! It was pretty much the most amazing meal ever.

Night comes around 4h30 so we try to start our days earlier and to bed earlier. This usually means Anthony sneaks in a nap, I get distracted on the internet and then I become super sleepy the second we step foot into a museum. I'm working on it though! Luckily since we have so many days here, we really get the opportunity to explore everything we want to see.

22 December 2010

Stephansdom, the Karlskirch, and the Belvedere

We started the day off with a trip to the Lower Belvedere to finish what we had started the day before. The Lower Belvedere has more modern contemporary pieces, which I didn't really care for but Anthony enjoyed. Afterward we headed over the Stephansdom, the main church in the city whose spires towers over the city's landscape. We decided to head to the South Tower, the taller of the two towers for the apparently spectacular views. The South towers is taller but lacks something important- an elevator. The stairway was a small, spiraling and dark. It would have been quite claustrophobic in the summer with more visitors, but luckily we only had to pass people in the other direction 2 or 3 times. The views were fantastic but we were definitely panting after 350 steps. We felt like we were so high above the city, but looking at the picture of the church, we were only halfway up the tower! The rest of the way isn't accessible, but I think I would have been scared to go much further.

We weren't even all the way up to the stop-off in the tower when I took this photo. The tiled roof is one of the coolest parts of St. Stephansdom.

The view we worked so hard for

This is the tower that we went up into. We were probably about even with where the covering/work outside finishes

On the way home we went to Karlskirch with another Christmas in front. Karlskirch is absolutely beautiful with a soaring ceiling and amazing frescoes. They have an elevator set up in the middle that leads up to a platform which then allows you to climb scaffolding staircases up to the the very top of the church. This allows a panoramic view of the city, a close up of the wonderful artwork and a serious case of vertigo.

Looking down from the scaffolding into the church

Up close you could really appreciate the paintings even more

With tired legs, we headed home after, have seen enough dizzying heights and content to stay on the ground for a while.

First Real Day in Vienna and the Upper Belvedere

Monday night Anthony finally arrived after 2 and a half days in London. He was short two bags (one of which would arrive Thursday night, the other is still somewhere in the hands of British Airlines). It was such a relief to finally see him, not only because it had been 3 months, but because it seemed so uncertain if he would arrive at all. It took him a plane ticket to Brussels from London and he just barely got out on the last plane from Brussels to arrive. Four countries in 5 days!
Tuesday morning we headed out to see some Christmas Markets- the number of which is one of the reasons I wanted to come to Vienna. At our first one we (I) saw some items for sale that looked suspiciously like latkes- and so they were! Some latkes and glühwein certainly brought up our spirits.

Then we headed over to the Belvedere which had another Christmas market in front. After looking around that we headed into the museum. The Upper Belvedere has some older pieces, while the Lower Belvedere is contemporary and modern art. The Upper Belvedere has Klimt's "The Kiss" as well as some of his other pieces. There were also some Renoirs, Monet's, Manet's and some by Herbert Boeckel that I really liked. The gardens that surround it were not in their prime obviously given the season, but must be spectacular in summer.
We saved the Lower Belvedere for the next day, as we had been over ambitious with heading out so early in the morning. After picking up some groceries we headed home and made some dinner for a relaxing evening together.

21 December 2010

Noël! Des Lumières et le Marché de Noël

With all the travels, delays, and adventures I've missed some important updates. Coutances is showered in beautiful lights on all the streets leading up to Christmas as well as a market in the center of town. I've loved walking around at night just for the lights. It would be baby Shane's dream- so much to look at! Daytime photos are in this post, and for the sake of uploading photos, Christmas lights are in the other.

Christmas market with the Cathedral in the background

Christmas market with the Town Hall in the back!

They let a bunch of balloons go for no reason- I hope no animals choke on them!

I got a "bouchette de Noel" from a local bakery. It was just a small personal sized one rather than a family sized one most Frenchies have on Christmas. I still remember baking (and burning) one for French class in middle school with Jess.

The Lights!

20 December 2010

In the meantime...

So it doesn't seem like Anthony will be getting in tonight either... maybe tomorrow. He flew out of London to Brussels, but the Brussels to Vienna flight is canceled. I haven't heard from him since he left London, so I'm not sure how things are going right now. It's been a pretty rough few days for me and I can only imagine it being at least 10 times worse for Anthony right now. This will all work out in the end.... if it doesn't, British Airways is going to catch hell form me.

This seems pretty appropriate right now:

Maybe I'll actually post the Christmas photos from Coutances that I've been meaning to put up. More likely I'll just be obsessively refreshing gmail, the brussels airport website and weather forecasts.

18 December 2010


I'm safe in Vienna at the apartment me and Anthony are renting with one problem.... Anthony is in London.

Give snow and London not understanding the concept of a snow plow or being prepared for the winter, basically all flights have been canceled, he's been waiting on line all day and we're hoping he gets out on a plane tomorrow. The only thing to do is wait....

I'm sure it will be really fun when he gets here!

*19 Dec 8am Update: All flights but one are canceled from Heathrow today. There's a flight tonight at around 6pm, but I'm sure everyone else is clamoring to get on it as well. Luckily they did put him up in a hotel room over night, so maybe he'll be able to sightseeing a little bit while he's there. I trying to hope for the best and stay positive, but right now that's looking like Monday. :(
**19 Dec 10 am Update: Nothing is working... we're just waiting. Don't know if he'll even get here tomorrow.
***20 Dec 10am Update: His flight for 11am got canceled but the 6am flight went out today. Heathrow hasn't finalized their schedule for this afternoon, but those flights haven't been canceled yet- so maybe there's hope there. He's been at Heathrow for the last 4 days now (though they have put him up in hotel rooms) and they say not to go to the airport but he can't rebook online or get through calling... so he's stuck in limbo.
*****20 Dec 12:30pm All British Airways Vienna flights are canceled for today as well.

17 December 2010

En Route

I'm about to head to the Coutances train station to head into Paris. I'm staying with Chris and Claire overnight and then heading to the airport. They skys have opened up and are dumping buckets of snow and I'm terrified my plane will be canceled. Hopefully tomorrow night I'll be updating from Vienna (inshallah).

15 December 2010

Drunk French Granparents Club

I missed choir practice last week since Dad was here visiting and with about 60 people in the choir, despite being the new, young, American, apparently some people don't know me yet.
As I brushed sleep from my eyes I realized I somehow managed to be lulled to sleep by one of my flatmates singing along to Micheal Jackson on the other side of our very thin walls. It was 8 o'clock, I still hadn't eaten dinner, and I probably needed to change into different clothes besides the sweatpants that I "cleaned" (also known as licked) the spilled yogurt off of last week. In a hazy amble I ate a spoonful or two of peanut butter and made some toast. I have an awkward assortment of food left before I leave on Friday and there wasn't time for my usual standby of spaghetti.
I arrived at the practice room, only a few minutes late. However, I couldn't hear singing from within. Instead I found the room with two banquet tables and people milling about. I asked someone where the heck the choir practice was and was met with "here!" A celebration dinner before Christmas break. Well, how fitting because I was going to need Christ's help. French meals are incredibly stressful for me. I've made lunches in the cafeteria at school managable by figuring out who are the talkers, sitting by them and letting them do all the work. Sometimes they'll ask a question, but usually they blab away through the hour leaving me blissfully free of having to make a huge ass of myself in front of everyone with my grammar mistakes which take 5 minutes to formulate in the first place.
So crap. what the hell was I going to do. Sylvain wasn't at this "practice" apparently, so I had no fallback there and I didn't know anyone else. Both women who have rather taken me under their wings at the choir (Nadine and Jackie I believe), came to my rescue. It was apparently a bring your own plate affair as well. A paper plate and plastic cutlery were found for me, I scrounged up some food and sat down with Jackie, hoping to blend in with the wall until whenever I could gracefully leave. However this meal was different than most. They asked me questions, of course the usual basics. (Je m'appelle Anna. Je viens des Etats-Unis, pres du New York. Je suis l'assistant d'anglais au lycee lebrun. Je pars le fin d'avril. ) And conversations headed other directions. Considering I'm the youngest member of the choir by about 25 years (I was asked whose child I was when I came in and someone didn't recognize me), conversations turned to children and grandchildren. As the wine flowed, jokes were made, politicians criticized and more laughs engulfed the table. A man turned to me, "Do you know Montiange? Ummm, no (I also thought he was talking about mountains, having been listening to the conversation on the other side of me) Voltaire? A little. Montesquieu? Some." And that's where the conversation ended. Not in a terrible "you dumb American" trap I felt myself walking into, the conversation just turned. Which is good that it did because I could have actually talked about Montiange's "Of Cannibals" a lot easier than Montesquieu. I realized the beauty of the choir and the elevated average age. Run out of conversation topics? Ask about their kids. And how much they hate Sarkozy.
The Drunk French Grandparents Club aka choir is a beautiful thing. They actually want to talk to you, despite grammar mistakes and impending departure. But if you have nothing to say then there are 59 other people who will certainly jump in with something else.
The evening ending with some spontaneous Christmas and choir songs, some in French and some in English. Yes, it's choir, but I couldn't help the feeling that I was at staff banquet for Glen Spey, with the long tables and slightly out of synch singing. And I was happy I stayed. I was homesick and I still wished I had something to add to the conversation, but I was glad I stayed.

14 December 2010

Poiré, White Wine, Red Wine, Another Type of Red Wine, and Calavados

Last night I had dinner at the home of a British couple with Sylvain (one of the English teachers here) and Huimin. The couple is part of the jury of "Le Concours Lechaptois," the English recitation competition I'm running.
I was pretty much dreading this dinner, partly because sometime Sylvain puts me in a bad mood, but also because I was worried they would interrogate me about Le Concours which I still feel like I'm completely bs-ing.
Turns out I was wrong- it was awesome. Richard and Felicity are amazingly sweet. They spent the whole night saying how we should feel at home, if we didn't like something we didn't have to eat it, if something was the matter just tell them. Most of all they were so sincere in that they want to get to know me. It didn't feel like a "Oh crap, gotta have the american over for dinner, better get this over with," meal at all. They extended invitations to go oyster hunting with them in January and we exchanged contact info before we left. When I woke up this morning I had an email waiting from Felicity with a book list she had been talking about last night. We had an absolutely beautiful meal- trout wrapped round palm hearts, roast guinea fowl and vegetables, a cheese plate, salad and brandied plums with custard for desert. This was all interspersed with drinks of course.
More than anything it was nice to connect on a cultural level as well. Richard is extremely well traveled and has lived in South Africa, New Jersey, Shanghai and Texas. This also meant that I wasn't subject to the usual onslaught of "what you don't know obscure American/Great Britain cultural fact that we're teaching in class right now?! what about the entire work of Shakespeare and every American author ever?" I could actually talk about different conversation topics, rather I could actually participate in conversation!
Thank God I only had an hour of work this morning (at 9am) because I don't think I would have made it to or through much else. We arrived at Felicity's and Richard's just after 7 and didn't leave until 11h40! Quite different from my usual Monday night. All in all a wonderful time and I'm so glad I got to meet them. I hope it continues through the rest of my time here.

11 December 2010

A visit from Dad

Well, I've had a fun filled 4 days because my wonderful Dad came for a visit!
He met me up in Cherbourg where I had to get my medical visits for my visa done. We had some weird scheduling to work around due to conference calls and my two medical visits but it all went well. My first medical appointment was for a chest x-ray to make sure I don't have tuberculosis, despite the fact that I've been teaching and working with the students for 2 and a half months at this point, but alright France, I'll get a chest x-ray for you. The second visit in the afternoon I would barely even call a physical. It took about 1o minutes long involved getting my blood pressure, height and weight, listening to my tuberculosis free lungs and asking me if I smoke. That's it. Not even looking in the ears, that weird press on the tummy thing, check eyesight or anything else. I was happy to get out of there though and get back to hanging out with my dad.

We explored some of the main shopping streets in Cherbourg, had a lovely lunch, and visited the Christmas market (which had a pony!! and churos!!)

Once we got to Coutances and checked Dad into his hotel room we headed out for galettes (savory crepes) for dinner at Le Ratelier. Dinner was amazing, though I couldn't finished or take advantage of a dessert crepe because of the churos that were sitting heavily in my stomach from earlier.

On Thursday I gave dad a tour of the town, bringing him to any place imaginable in order to extend the tour, but he was also happy to have a more relaxing day after his whorl-wind business trip. We also headed over to Agon-Coutainville to walk along the Atlantic Ocean. And like any visit from a parents when the kid has starting living on their own- a trip to the grocery store. It was great to have a car to bring them back in AND Dad got to experience the fun of carrying groceries up 5 flights of stairs!

Me and Dad at the beach in Agon-Coutainville

Friday we headed to Chartres, about an hour away from Orly and therefor an easier drive for Dad when leaving Saturday. It had heavily snowed a few days before and so our unprepared feet got to walk around in the days-old snow slush; at least my shoes dried by the next morning.
We visited the Cathedral and the beautiful stained glass windows, and the narrow pedestrian streets that reminded me of Diagon alley from Harry Potter. Dinner was, again, wonderful, especially because it ended with a hot fudge sundae :D

Me and Dad on the narrow streets in Chartres. I tried to get some of the lights that were behind us in the photos, but they didn't show up well.

Saturday morning I had an early train out of Chartres so I could connect in Paris and get back to Coutances (7:30am!). It would have been nice to get some extra time with Dad and leave a little later, but I definitely wouldn't have gotten any extra sleep since Dad sounds like a broken tractor when he snores.

I spent the train ride back missing him already, but glad that he got to see Coutances and at least visit for a little while. I wish it was possible for everyone to visit, not only so I could see you all, but also so I could share my tiny little town with you.

08 December 2010

Why today was awesome

1. Dad got here!
2. Medical visits in Cherbourg weren't that obnoxious.
3. Christmas Market in Cherbourg.
4. --- With a donkey!!!
5.----And French churros! (chichis)
6. A fantastic lunch
7. Driving back to Coutances with Dad rather than spending 2 hours on the train
8. A delicious dinner of galettes in Coutances
9. The Coutances Christmas lights are finally on!
10. The sum of the things listed above :D

07 December 2010

Wonderful People!

Tomorrow my dad gets here and in a week and a half I'll be flying to Vienna to meet up with Anthony for Christmas!!!!

Obviously I'm very excited and happy, and what more needs to be said?

06 December 2010

Christmas Lessons

Things I learned today when teaching/ holding conversations about Christmas

1. A kid in my morning group did know that Christmas is celebrated because it's Jesus's birthday. She honestly just had no idea. She actually a pretty good student too, and speak English well.
2. French kids don't leave anything out for Pere Noel. No cookies and no milk- not even a carrot for the reindeer. Obviously it's way more fun to be Santa than Pere Noel.
3. Except if you're visiting one of my student's house. She leaves out hot chocolate and Calvados. Win!

03 December 2010

Winter Wonderland

The snow kept falling and I'd say that we got about 10 inches last night. Everyone was out shuffling around and shoveling snow today but it was a great jovial atmosphere. I also saw some guy walking along when a pile of snow fell off a roof and on his head and the neck of his jacket- his daughter was behind him and absolutely cracking up- I loved it!

Looking out over the school from the balcony/hallway in front of the apartment. You can see the top of the cathedral all lit up!

From my bedroom window this morning. It make me think of the song "over the river and through the woods"

In front of the main building of the lycee. I like to pretend it's my Christmas tree, but it's just a pine that's always there

The catherdral in centre-ville.

The steps down to "Les Unelles" or the cultural center that also has the library

It makes me so excited for Christmas! and they may be turning on the Christmas lights around town tonight :D

02 December 2010


So it is now offically winter in my book- why? Thanksgiving is over and there is snow everywhere! And you know what? it's the most wonderful time of the year.


Some random middle aged non-creepy looking guy today was like "un manteau tres joli!" sweet- I semi fit in!
There's about six inches of snow on the ground and it keeps coming (which means I didn't even really work today because none of the kids showed up!)
My dad will be here in less than a week.
The Christmas lights around Coutances will go on this weekend.
The crazy park thing in the middle of town has been turned into a mini forest now WITH LIGHTS! and pine trees
Fun Christmas shopping
I see Anthony in about 2 weeks.
A trip to Vienna!

I'm almost out of food
My latkes failed because I didn't have a second egg so they couldn't bind

Hashbrowns and applesauce are still pretty good
I still have beer left (raspberry lambic, yum!)

I'm pretending this is my life right now: