Thursday, January 30, 2014

Winter Fun 2014

Well it's been a chilly week!  First we went on our now annual ski trip to Colorado (made more fun this year because we were able to visit with K in her new homestate and we had 2 additional friends travelling with us!).  We flew out last Thursday and got in pretty late.  We crashed at K's new house in Denver that night and stayed up pretty late talking and catching up - and boy can we all talk!  It cut down on sleep time, but was totally worth it.  We hit the road early the next morning and reached Winter Park around 8:30 am.
S decided to give skiing a try this year (he learned to snowboard last year) so he signed up for the day long ski lesson with our friends J and Iv and I headed out on my own to ski on the mountain solo.  I got in some great runs - 1 short just to make sure I still had my "ski legs" and then 3 wonderful long runs - and then took a lunch break to check into our condo and unpack our luggage from the car.  The condo was pretty incredible (you can see it here) and if we decide to ski at Winter Park again in the future we'd definitely look into renting the same place again.  After lunch I took another long run on the mountain and then met up with S, J, and Iv, who had finished their lesson, for a couple of short runs.  The combination of the late night flight, early morning wake up, long morning drive, and a full day of skiing left all of us completely exhausted.  So we packed up, hit up the grocery store, and went back to the condo for the rest of the night to eat, relax in the hot tub (soooooo good), S and I gave eachother our post-ski foot massages, and play some card games before we all passed out.

The next morning we slept in a bit and then all caught the bus back to the mountain.  To be honest, it wasn't a far trip, our condo was at the base of the mountain in the "old town" area and the bus ride took all of 3 minutes and it was very convenient not to have to worry about parking.  Iv and J had gotten their fill of skiing the day before, so they broke off and did some snowshoeing.  We strapped ourselves into our boots and hit the slopes for day 2 of skiing.  I took S on some of my less challenging but still pretty long runs during the morning.  We made 2 short and 2 long runs (S did great!) before we stopped for lunch.  In the afternoon we did 2 more runs and then called it a day - our knees and feet couldn't take anymore!  After another dip into the hot tub and some foot massages we showered up and headed into the town of Winter Park for some dinner and drinks at The Library, a local brewpub.  It was also the weekend of Mary Jane's Birthday, so we got to see some fireworks too!  K had driven into the mountains to join us for the night, so we all had some fantastic conversation with our food.  We took it back to the condo for more hot toddies and drinks (everyone's new favorite is a Dr. Peppermint)  plus some card games afterwards.  It was a fun night!

Since we had given ourselves a full 3 days on the mountain, we had extra time on day 3 to partake in some other snow sports we hadn't had time for last trip.  In the morning the 5 of us hit the road and drove into Rocky Mountain National Park for some snowmobiling!  It was my first time on as snowmobile and didn't really have a strong desire to drive, so since everyone else had 2 seaters anyway, I just seat hopped.  I started out with S, but after he spent a few minutes "testing the limits of the snowmobile" and then asked me to step off for a moment so he could try a jump, I decided to ride the rest of the path with K...

 Everyone except J got their snowmobile stuck in a deep snow drift at least once (in the fourth picture above, S and J are digging S's vehicle out of a snowy hillside) and dare devils Iv and S were all about the jumps (5th picture), big hills, and "off roading", plus we got lost on the trail, so we had our moments of excitement.  The views were incredible as well.  We spent about 2.5 hours on the snowmobiles and then S, K, and I headed back to the condo to relax and eat some warm soup while adventurous and energy-filled Iv and J did some hiking in the Rocky Mountain National Park.  K left to head home before it got dark and after packing our stuff, the rest of us headed out to do some nighttime snow tubing.
On Monday morning we woke up to a winter wonderland covered in a fresh coat of thick white powder.  It was SO tempting to stay and ski in the fresh snow, but we had an afternoon flight and instead had to drive through the curvy, snowy roads, so we headed out semi-early to make sure we would have time for lunch in Denver with K before we had to be at the airport.  We over-ordered some delicious Chinese food (my first time eating Vietnamese egg rolls - I'm hooked), gave K good bye hugs, and then caught our fight back to Houston.

We returned to Houston to weather that was colder than Denver had been!  We'd been skiing in gorgeous, sunny 37 degrees and on Tuesday Houston was a brutal 32 degrees with rain/snow/sleet.  Due to the possibility of ice on the roads (and since this is the South...) and the over 300 accidents on the road the previous Thursday/Friday when the same potential road conditions existed, most Houston area schools as well as many companies (including Johnson Space Center) closed down for the day.  I still had work, but I was allowed to work from home, so I brought my laptop home and tied into my daily telecons from the comfort of my couch (the kitties were THRILLED).  That evening after the ice threats had cleared we drove over to S's house where we found little icicles hanging from the roof - a rarity in Houston, so we got a kick out of it.  As a Midwesterner, watching Southerners in snowy/icy conditions kind of cracks me up.  In typical Houston fashion, though, we're warming up again already and anticipate a high in the mid 70's by tomorrow - amazing...

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Tribute

So last night my brother's sweet, sweet dog Sierra died.  Which is horrible enough for most families to deal with when the dog is sick or old - our pets are a part of our family.  But Sierra was only 3 years old.  Some friends had been watching her for my brother and they came home yesterday to find her dead on their front porch - she had been shot...  I am just so completely torn up about it.  I've pretty much been crying since I found out.  Last night I cried so hard that I gave myself a bloody nose and this morning I was crying so much on my way into work that I had to detour over to S's house to recompose myself since I had basically cried off most of my makeup (hardly professional to show up to work still crying with puffy eyes and a red nose either...)  I'm all for "rights of the people", which in our country includes the right to bear arms, but knowing that someone this cruel would use that right to do something so horrible to such a sweet animal makes me sick.

Sierra was part pitbull, and I know that scares some people.  But her personality was anything but malicious.  She had the most loving and friendly disposition.  She wanted nothing more than to play, spend time with family, cuddle, and be loved.  Her pure excitement at seeing any one of us would always make me smile.  I called her my niece.  Sierra was a beautiful, sweet, and loving pet and we will always remember the joy she brought to our family and especially to my brother. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Germany Trip Part 6 - Salzburg, Austria, Day 1

Our trip to Salzburg took us through the Alps at sunset and it was truly beautiful.  Oh, and S got his personal best speed on the Autobahn!  The numbers on the spedometer are in km/hr, but it converts to 150 mph!
We got to Salzburg with our GPS directions to our apartment rental for the next 3 nights and then immediately hit a roadblock.  Literally.  It turns out that the Old Town Salzburg area where we were staying is only open to motorized traffic between 9 am and 11 am.  We were arriving around 7 pm.  We tried to get up to the apartment 3 different ways, the third of which led us to a tiny little alleyway surrounded by tall stone walls in which our big BMW barely fit.  S was driving and wound up having to perform a VERY stressful "3 point turn" (it took closer to 9-10 points) in said alley without damaging our rental after we'd hit a dead end.  At that point we called the landlord and she rushed down to find us and lead us to a parking garage.  We then had to basically jog through Old Town, hauling our luggage over the cobblestones so that we could catch the very last train, or festungsbahn, up to Salzburg castle.  
Why were we catching the last train up to Salzburg castle with all of our luggage at 8 pm?  Well, the apartment we were staying in was actually IN the castle!!!!  Hohensalzburg Castle is one of the oldest castles in Europe, it's first structures being built back in 1077!  The picture above was taken by S and the building up at the top of the hill is the castle.  We unfortunately did miss the last train up another night and had to walk up that massive hill, but that's later in the story...  So we finally made it to our apartment in the castle, ate some sandwiches for dinner and passed out from a long, eventful, and unfortunately at the end, stressful day (don't forget, this is still the same day that we went on the 2 castle tours!)

The next morning we woke up to this.  Nearly deserted castle streets and a crazy beautiful view of the valley and the city of Salzburg below.  Day 1 in Salzburg was going to be a busy day - we were heading out on the Sound of Music tour (touristy I know, but SO worth it) and then finishing up our day with a Mozart concert and dinner.
Funnily enough, most of the people of Salzburg have never seen the Sound of Music.  It was filmed there, but it was never shown successfully in the theaters of Austria - they have no interest.  Despite this, tour advertisements are all over the place for us American tourists who just can't get enough of the VonTrapp family!  K and I were giddy and S was mildly interested (though he did wind up enjoying it)  The tour started off with the gazebo from the backyard of the VonTrapp family mansion, which has been relocated since filming completed as too many people had tried to break into it to re-perform the scene from "16 Going On 17".  After seeing the gazebo we headed over to the lake and backyard of the VonTrapp family.  Little known fact: the house and the backyard/lake are two very separate sites in Salzburg and they are brought together in the film by the magic of Hollywood.  You'll notice now that I've mentioned it to you that in the movie you never see both settings in the same shot... The house in the middle picture is the site of the backyard and the lake behind it, surrounded by beautiful trees and mountains was absolutely picturesque.
From there we headed into the Alps toward the little town of Mondsee, where more scenes were filmed.  On the way, we stopped along the road for a photo op - a lake and small town surrounded by snow capped mountains.  According to our guide, there is usually too much fog to get any kind of good view here, but we happened upon an absolutely beautiful day with few clouds and clear views - lovely!

Our next stop was the town of Mondsee where we were given a little over an hour to explore on our own.  Mondsee contains two classic scenes from the movie: THE church where the wedding was held and the avenue of trees that the kids climbed in wearing their play clothes made of the old curtains.  The church was absolutely magificent, the interior was quite large and filled with domed ceilings, black and gold statues, three organs, and a huge balcony.  It was like the Neuschwanstein of churches. After exploring the church we stopped in a little cafe for some pastries and then took a look at the avenue of trees before heading back to our bus.

Our tour then took us back toward Salzburg, passing by the yellow house that was actually used at the VonTrapp family "house" in the movie (we didn't get to go in and unfortunately I didn't get a good picture when we drove by) and ending at Mirabelle Gardens, where Do-Re-Mi was filmed.  It was a beautiful garden with a fantastic view, elaborately swirling flower beds, marble statues, and fountains that have been carefully refinished to dissuade Sound of Music aficionados from marching atop the perimeter a la Maria.  From there we quickly walked back into Old Town and caught the festungsbahn back up to the castle to change for dinner.  We walked back down through the main square and over to the St. Peter Stiftskeller, the oldest restaurant in Europe, for our 3 course dinner accompanied by a Mozart Concert!

This was also a bit touristy of us, but it was another experience that we all very much thought was worth it.  Mozart was born and raised in Salzburg, so he's huge here - we got to listen to his music in the very town in which most of it was written!  The food was quite delicious and all of the musical selections were pretty familiar, at least for someone like me who grew up playing piano.  To be honest, S knew most of them too as the themes are used in movies and such all the time.  The performers did a lovely job and the singers especially put on a very lively performance.  The biggest surprise of the night, though, was how much we all enjoyed the White Lemon Soup with Curd Cheese Rosemary Dumplings...
The dinner let out long after the festungsbahn had made it's last run of the night, so we enjoyed a steep, meandering trip up to the top of the hill on foot in order to make it back to our apartment for the evening.  We actually got to walk through the "front door" of the castle, though (to which we had an actual key!) so that was a part of the castle that we all agreed we probably never would have gotten to experience otherwise.  All in all, day 1 in Salzburg was thoroughly enjoyable!

Monday, January 20, 2014


Been busy lately and have a lot coming up too.  I know that the Germany trip was a whopping 3 months ago and I still don't have all of the pictures posted yet and so I probably shouldn't be posting "randomness", but I need something to mix it up every now and then.  And hence, randomness....
The pescatarian diet is going surprisingly well!  Although we've been craving a burger like crazy, we haven't yet succumbed to red meat's siren song!  We've been eating some very delicious, very healthy meals AND we've actually been working out about 3x/week with our p90x DVD's, so things are going well!  Some of the highlights from the month so far have been a make your own sushi night with B and J (it was SOOOOO yummy and way cheaper than a sushi restaurant.  though I admit we could use some help getting the sizing of the rolls right - we had issues fitting most of them in our mouths....), a crazy good kale salad that I pretty much crave daily now, and these chipotle black bean and sweet potato tacos that are so delicious that I swear we didn't even miss the meat.
In other news, we are having trouble staying put at home for extended periods of time, despite the fact that we were basically gone most of the winter and autumn months.  Although I'm admittedly pretty thrilled that S loves to travel as much as I do!  We have a ski trip (I just found this random ski cartoon comparing skiing in 1982 vs skiing in 2012 that has me cracking up) and a trip to Chicago (to see family, friends, and the Chicago car show) planned in the upcoming months.  So lots of cold weather and  yet, despite my southern blood, I can't wait!
This video is funny because it's true.  And if you're a 30-something you'll totally appreciate it as well.

Other randomness:
  • I was reading about barre workout classes and was thinking I wanted to try one.  But $20 for a single class when I can work out for free at home or the NASA gym seems a little steep...
  • Been dying to learn how to blow glass and I actually found a place in the Houston area that offers classes.  It's pretty pricy at $300 for 2 days, and I'm somewhat nervous given how generally clumsy I am (a bad combination with super hot molten glass...) but it would be one more thing I could cross off my life list.  They only offer classes in the cooler months since both Texas and the furnaces get super duper hot, so my time frame is limited.  I'll keep you updated.
  • I've been wanting to get back into art more in general lately.  My trip to Germany was REALLY inspiring me to start painting again.  Not to mention I still owe artwork to various family members - like my cousin who got married 8 years ago and wanted one of my copper tooling pieces....  Problem is, these all take time, which I don't ever seem to have much of anymore.  Thinking I will try to ease into it with smaller projects like this, this, or this first. (Did fit in some time to make one of these over the break too!)
  • Speaking of art, how mind blowing is this shadow art?!?

(top image from here, snowman pic here)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Germany Trip Part 5 - The Castles

We woke up to the most picturesque day possible for our castle tours of Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein!  The sky was blue, the sun was shining, the leaves were changing colors, and the surrounding mountains were snow capped, it was perfection! After a quick breakfast at our hotel we packed up the car and headed up the nearby road to the base of the castles.  Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein are absolutely beautiful castles owned by the last of the Kings of Bavaria, Maximillian and his son Ludwig.  They were only built in the 19th century, so they're hardly the oldest castles we saw in German, but they were by far the most elaborate. Here were the views when we left our hotel:

 After we parked we headed over to Hohenshwangau first, which is the older of the two castles first built by Ludwig's father Maximillian.  It was their "vacation home" and while the castle was definitely lovely, it was the views and scenery that truly blew my mind...


 We weren't allowed to take pictures inside of the castles.  I admit I snuck a few, but they didn't turn out all that great since they were hurried pics that I couldn't frame or focus properly.  To be honest, I don't know that the pictures would do them justice anyway.  After our tour of Hohenschwangau (say that 5x fast....) we were going to take the bus up the mountain on the approximately 1 mile trip to Neusschwanstein, the newer of the two castles built by the crazy king Ludwig.  However, due to an abundance of Asian tourists (waiting in the line would have taken longer than just walking), we decided to make the trek on foot.  The weather was perfect for it and the mountain wasn't particularly steep, but it did give us a whole new appreciation for the craftsman and artisans that had to make that trek daily (with massive blocks of stone no less!) in order to build the castle.

 The snow capped mountains reflecting in the mirror smooth lake and with the leaves changing colors just rocked my world.  It was SO insanely gorgeous.  That picture above with the golden ceiling was taken from the gilded throne room and it was by far the most elaborate room I have ever been in in my life. The chandeliers were studded with huge rhinestones and nearly everything was covered in gold.  The excess was actually kind of ridiculous, but stunning none the less.  After our tour of the second castle we hit up some gift shops for souveniers and an overpriced restaurant with rude waiters  for food.  As we made our way back down the mountain we lost S at one point and found him minutes later with a beer in one hand and a giant pretzel in the other - he had finally reached the beer-land of Bavaria!!!!  He'd only been waiting the entire trip for a good German beer....

We left the castles awestruck, full of beer and pretzels, and ready for our next adventure!  On our way out we caught one last image of the glory of Neuschwanstein against a setting of nearby pastures.
We then drove 3 hours through farmland and over the Alps to the 6th part of German(ish) adventure - coming up next: Salzburg, Austria!