Moving to Holland is not easy, but it's worth the effort. This blog tells the story of shifting from American life in Pittsburgh to Expat life in the Netherlands,
and all of our European adventures that follow.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Innsbruck, Austria

We didn't expect to love Austria as much as we did. Innsbruck was such a pleasant surprise. We knew it would be beautiful, since it was in the Alps, and all of the surrounding areas in Germany and Switzerland are great. But, it exceeded our expectations.

The 2 hour train ride from Munich to Innsbruck was a scenic trip, as we rode through Bavaria and into the Austrian Alps. The mountains we passed outside got larger and larger. We had our noses to the window so much, that we nearly missed our stop.

Innsbruck lies in a valley in the middle of these beautiful mountains. I took this pic at the top of the Stadtturm (City Tower).
The Old Town of Innsbruck is straight out of a fairy tale book. It is the type of town that Disney would model a fake town after, only this is the real deal. The buildings are colorful and ornate, and the streets and alleys are cobblestone.
We stayed at Hotel Innsbruck, which was right on the Inn river. Check out the amazing view of the little Old Town street from our window!
Chad went into work mode when we arrived. And he did have his share of work ahead of him, as, in addition to his presentation, he was trying to firm up the details of his future job, and consequently determine where we will be moving after we leave Rotterdam. You know, no pressure, no big deal...

It was sort of fun to explore the city on my own. I haven't really had a chance to do this much before. I had to overcome my touristy-photo-guilt to pull out my camera at a cafe to take this picture of my breakfast, because it was just too cute. I love how they sprinkled the cocoa powder in the shape of a sunshine. And, the croissant was filled with nuts, sugar and cinnamon. It was so good, I thought about having it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

This beautiful cathedral, St. Jacob's, is in the heart of Old Town. The detailed paintings on the ceiling were amazing.
I also saw the Schloss Ambross Castle, and the Hofburg Imperial Palace. The Castle sits up on a hillside and overlooks the city. It's not quite the picturesque castle, with all of the gilding and turrets, but it definitely has it's fair share of history.

And gorgeous inside
Being smack in the middle of the Alps has it's advantages. The water is so pure, that they have public drinking fountains all throughout the city. Not the processed water fountains, like you'd find in a shopping mall, but true city fountains that people fill up their bottles with or lean over to drink from. (and, yes, I already had some pink juice in my bottle before I took this pic)

The cityscape along the Inn river is beautiful with colorful buildings and a gorgeous mountain backdrop. I stole Chad away from his meetings long enough to document our presence here together.
I have to say that Innsbruck has made it way up the list of my favorite cities. It is such a cool city that still has so much history and culture.

Now, just another little train ride back up to Munich, and a flight across the pond to Pittsburgh, and our 5 week trip continues (and I'm already tired of the clothes in my suitcase!).

- S

*Full set of pictures from Austria are on Flickr:

Monday, May 9, 2011

Five weeks out of a suitcase

We have had this 5 week trip planned for months, and it's hard to believe the time has arrived. It was not our intention to take such a long trip, however, it is bookeneded with two conference that Chad is attending in Innsbruck, and Naples (Florida).

So for the week between, we are going to stay in Pittsburgh, Wheeling, and Morgantown to spend time with the fam. The original reason for our trip, too, is Meagan's bridal shower. And, I get to tag along for the rest and explore Austria and sit on the beach in Florida. Poor me... I don't know how I'll manage. Then, we'll cap it off with 3 days in South Beach, Miami, where we will also celebrate our 4th anniversary!

Our epic trip started with a long day of travel: train from ROT to AMS, flight to MUC via CPH, then train to Innsbruck.

Our flight to Munich had a layover in via Copenhagen. Even though we were just in the airport, this might be my only trip to Denmark, so I wanted to try something Danish. I saw everybody eating these little open-faced sandwiches, called Smørrebrød, so I gave them a try.
They had strong flavors, but they were actually pretty tasty.

Chad had a burger, fries, and beer. All together, while we were in the CPH airport for about 2 hours we managed to spend around 60 Euros! on lunch, coffee, and a bottle of water.

It's true what they say, Denmark is one of the most expensive countries to visit because of the currency conversion. I hope to one day we'll be able to make a proper trip to Copenhagen, but I think we should wait until we are making a little more dough first.

In stark contrast, after we landed in Munich and were waiting for our train to Innsbruck, we bought dinner for both of us at the Munich train station for only 10 Euro! Keep in mind that this 10 Euro bought us a half a chicken, potato salad, a giant pretzel, and two beers.
We heart Germany!

And so our trip began... stay tuned


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Patients is a Virtue

(but the Dutch beg to differ)

There are always going to be some cultural differences when you live in a country other than your own. One of the things that I have now grown used to, but still don't care for, is what I can group under the term "impatience," but it manifests itself in several ways.

You didn't push it properly!

When waiting at a crosswalk or elevator, the need to push the button repeatedly cannot be resisted. This always makes me think of Ellen Degeneres' stand up routine, when she describes waiting for an elevator. When you walk up to an elevator where people are waiting and see that the button is already lit up, you still push the button again because, obviously, they didn't do it properly. Then, when the person after you comes to wait, and they also push the button, you think "idiot, can't you see that I've already pushed it." haha.

When eager bikers area waiting on their green bike light to turn, you can almost see the anxiousness in their fidgety bodies. They repeatedly check to make sure their peddles and feet are in the proper position to not waste any time when the light turns green. If it does not turn in the amount of time they think is 'normal' they press it again, or simply look at the button or the light with confusion or anger, as if it must be broken, or just lazy and by their gaze they will wake it up and it will say, "oh yeah, sorry... here you go... green."

Maybe you didn't hear me: Ding Ding Ding!

When biking in Holland, you quickly become aware that people are not afraid to use their bike bells. The bells can have many meanings. One ding from behind could mean "look out good sir, I am coming up behind you on your left," whereas two or more dings means "get the h^** out of my way!"

The impatience also becomes prevalent when people are squished around a tiny are waiting for a crosswalk sign to turn green. As more people come to the stop, they try to squeeze their bike tire in to any little open spot, even if that means almost leaning entirely against you (which they also sometimes do). When the light turns green, the real go-getters peddle like mad men to show the rest how proficient and "snell" they are.

You know the light is turning green next, just GO!

I am extremely happy, almost every day, that I do not own a car, or need to drive in Holland. This would surely bring out the worst in me. People will not only cut other cars off like the best of New York City's elite, but they will literally drive up on a curb to go around someone they think isn't jumping the gun on the green light. In more normal situation, if you don't hit the gas immediately upon the light changing to green, you will be greeted with a barrage of horns and arm waving.

The Dutch are also notoriously bad parallel parkers. Perhaps they don't know how to properly park, or perhaps they just think it's a waist of time to make sure their car is lined up so that it does not stick out into traffic or (infamously) halfway up on the sidewalk.

You don't mind if I reach over you, do you?

In the shops, there is also a different etiquette that you quickly become aware of. If you are in a clothing store looking at a rack of clothes, it is not uncommon for someone to come stand so close to you that they are pushing you with their shoulder, and flipping through the clothes right next to your hand. You might even occasionally have someone reach right over the piece of clothing you are looking at, to look at something on the other side of you.

Also, this does not really fall into the category of impatience, but while on the subject of shopping, I can note one other distinct difference. Don't ever expect a sales person to come up to you in the store to ask if you need help. Quite the opposite. They will even appear to be dodging you or running away from you if they see you walking over to ask a question. They very much have the "is my shift over yet" mentality. Yes, admittedly we can go a bit overboard in the US, but 'Customer Service' is very different in Holland.

As I mentioned above, it is only natural that things will be different from country to country, and I don't want the above to sound like a list of complaints (though unfortunately it sometimes does sound this way). Rather, it is just a set of observations that I've made over the past couple of years. A lot of the time, I can look at these behaviors as endearing, though every now and then (more often than I wish) it does get on my nerves.

You get used to these differences after such a short time, that it's easy to forget that people aren't like this everywhere. I figured that it also won't be very long after we move back to the US that we forget some of these subtle differences. So, thought I'd write them down while they are still fresh in my mind.