Monday, February 27, 2017

Gluten Free at Zauchensee

As mentioned in my last post, we recently took a weekend ski trip to Austria to ski Zauchensee.

We stayed at Kesselgrub Familienhotel, which was fantastic for families with young children and included family-friendly rooms/suites and a KidsClub.  I emailed a week ahead to let them know that one of our sons has celiac and must not eat gluten or any food that could be cross contaminated.  They let me know they could accommodate this and they did!  

The entire staff was extremely nice and went out of their way to ensure he had safe foods to eat.  Note: if you are going and have Celiac or severe allergies, you will still need to be very careful and clarify needs.  While everyone had excellent intentions, this is clearly not a common service and understandably there was some confusion and misunderstanding.  However, the chef seemed to have a good understanding and prepared our son a separate evening meal each night.  In the mornings, our son was provided gluten free rolls and he was able to eat certain items from the regular fare: soft boiled eggs, fruit, yogurt, cheese, etc.  

Also, while on the mountain, my husband & I ate at the restaurant at the base (next to lift 8) and I noticed that the menu was marked with allergen information.  I took a picture of the page of the menu with the allergen guide (below) but later noticed that nothing on this page was gluten free.  Unfortunately, I didn't take pictures of the rest of the menu, so I don't know if there are any gluten free options.

Alpine Adventure!

We spent this weekend skiing the Alps in Austria!  We racked up a long list of firsts this weekend including the first time to ski in Europe, first time to see (or ski) the Alps, first visit to Austria, first gondola lift, and first time to ride an escalator with skis!

Jackson had a long weekend from school for Karneval, so we headed out of town after his class party.  We opted for the train since we heard traffic heading to the Alps from Germany could get lengthy. Plus, you can't beat the benefits of a convenient no-stop-required bathroom, onboard restaurant, and room to move around on a train.
Here we are walking the 2 blocks to the train station from our house. Packing for skiing takes ALOT of luggage when you take your own gear!  3 suitcases, 4 shoulder bags/backpacks, 2 ski bags, and a small duffel for Brandtley's food.

Our first train was just a subway to another station where we would board our longer train. The train was packed with Karneval partiers dressed in costumes, playing music, drinking, and singing to the kids! :) 

Our journey

Alpine skiing was a fantastic experience!  Instead of "Green" "Blue" and "Black" runs, here there are Green, Blue, Red, and Black runs. Except the mountains we skied started at Blue and there were no greens.  I wouldn't classify these two mountains as great for beginners since there were very few "easy" slopes and those were isolated, but there was plenty of intermediate & upper intermediate level.

Since we've only done this once, I don't know if the following is "normal" or just the area we were skiing.

The runs are LONG!  This can be awesome if you're on one you like! Or if you happen to choose poorly and find yourself on something a little above your skill level, could make for a really long hour of hard work.  I might be speaking from experience... ;)

However, the views from the top are spectacular!  The lifts are also long...thus a lot of gondolas. But we didn't encounter long lift lines.

This kid tore it up! He skied nonstop and didn't want to quit!  He took 2 hours of lessons each day in addition to skiing with us before & after.  

Gondola lift

One of Jackson's first runs this year...a little hesitant but already loving it!

Skiing with your dog is acceptable. We watched this guy ski all the way down the mountain with his dog on a leash.  There's a sport called Skijoring in which dogs (or horses) pull skiers, but this dog just ran beside his owner.

Not the gondolas we rode in :)

Repping CB in the Alps!

Gorgeous views from the gondola

Inside one of the buildings at the base of the mountain. Also pictured are the escalators.

Break to eat lunch & watch the ski World Cup 

We stayed in a town a few kilometers away at a "Familienhotel" which caters to families.  The nearby towns are all serviced by a ski bus (Schibus) which is free if you have on your ski gear, and so we rode it each day to the base of one of the two nearby mountains.

The hotel was all inclusive, which seems to be somewhat normal here. And included a KidsClub, Wellness spa with saunas, and 5 course meals each night. Brandtley chose to play in the KidsClub instead of skiing, which we went along with since he was SO happy. After all, it was his birthday. And he LOVED it.  The kid seriously needs to start kindergarten.

Playing in the indoor whirlpool. Pictured outside the windows is one of the 4 saunas.  Hands down the saunas & pools are the best apres ski activity ever for sore muscles.

I wrote ahead to the hotel to let them know of Brandtley's dietary restrictions and they went out of their way to make sure he had something safe to eat.  The chef made him a separate dinner each night and he was served gluten free rolls in the morning at breakfasts.  It was clear not all staff understood the full restrictions of gluten-free at the level required for Celiac, so caution is needed, but the chef seemed to be knowledgeable and everyone was extremely nice. We highly enjoyed our stay at the Kesselgrubs Familienhotel in Altenmarkt im Pongau.
The playground outside the building our room was in.  The hotel has a number of summertime activities too - from hiking to kids pony rides & petting zoo.

The train ride back was beautiful and we were able to see the views of the Alps that we missed on the ride down at night.  This is a little town just outside of Salzburg. Not the best picture, taken from a train window, but beautiful.

The Hills are Alive! 

Lastly, I'll leave you with this little gem... taken during a Hamilton dance party in hour 7 of an 8 hour train ride in the same little compartment the entire time.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

It's hard to write about hard things

I woke up early this morning.  I have no idea's Saturday.  I could be sleeping in.  But I also love a quiet solitary morning with a cup of coffee all to myself.  I rarely get that these days since most mornings are busy getting kids up, dressed, on bikes, to school, then back with Brandtley who is by my side until Jackson gets home.

I opened blogger and realized I have not posted at all in February.  How did time slip by like that?

Matthew just got home yesterday and we stayed up til 2am talking. (again, I could be sleeping in right now) I find that hard to believe - stay up til 2am just to talk?  To someone I talk to on a daily basis? As an introvert, I'm comfortable with silence.  And I definitely like my sleep.

As I thought about these two seemingly unrelated things, I realized it's been a long two weeks.  Matthew's been gone for most of them.  It's been gray and dreary.  By the way, it's almost always gray here this time of year. Daylight hours are short (but already lengthening since December - we no longer bike to school in total darkness at 8am!). The sun doesn't rise to the top of the sky, if you see it at all through the clouds.  We've been in the slog of, grocery, language school, laundry, more laundry, cooking, more cooking.  The kids felt crummy with a virus. We made our first sick visit to a German doctor.  On a bus. And navigated expat insurance from the viewpoint of an expat for the first time.  Our car has been in the shop for a week. Not that I'd drive it anyway...which is why it's been in the shop for a week, because I didn't want to pick it up.  I had some low points with a bad attitude.  We hit our first wall of behavioral issues with the kids as language class got hard and I was pulled aside by both of their teachers separately after each of their classes. I had at least 6 phone calls in German (this seems small but it is no small thing), and received multiple school flyers & "routine" correspondence from the school. Again, "routine" is no small thing.  I have yet to figure out what my responsibility is, despite having translated the words that are on the pages.  I went back to work (this actually was a high point & pulled me out of my funk more than one afternoon this week as I made phone calls in English and had full, informative, educated conversations in which I understood not only the vocabulary but also context & culture).

And I guess I don't like to write about hard things.  Nothing was horrible.  Nothing came crashing down.  But I also don't feel like there's much to say. Sometimes I'm just tired.

I navigated past my own blog pages this morning to the list of other blogs I follow and found a recent post by a fellow expat "friend" whom I have never met. She and her husband moved to another country in Europe with their 3 young children about 2 months before we did.  And sometime during these two weeks of my silence, she posted. Such a beautiful description of exactly this. Exactly what I didn't realize I was living.  This mountain climb of experience that has points where you "put your head down and will your feet to keep pacing one tiny step at a time".  That despite having learned to manage the laundry and the (gluten free) cooking, that this is no day hike.  It's a hidden mountain that just as you think you've got this, will surprise you.

Reading her words brought me relief, and I am grateful for the perspective. And that the peak is worth the pain.

And as I thought about this, I realized the pictures from the overlooks are what I'm posting.  What we all like to post.  They make the hike worth it. Who has the energy to video themselves when gasping for breath & focusing on their feet shuffling up a trail? Instead, we focus on the gorgeous views from the stopping points along the way. The points when we rest and take in with amazement where we are and the unique experiences provided by that.

I will continue to post the beautiful, fun adventures. But I needed to express the in-between too.    And it was time.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A quick trip to Amsterdam

It takes me forever to get around to blogging about travel. Maybe because I have too much to say. Oh well. Here's the long post... :)

We recently took a quick weekend trip to Amsterdam.  We had a few days free with Matthew home, so we jumped on a train and were in Amsterdam a little over 3 hours later!

We booked 2nd class tickets, but reserved seats in the Parent/Child cabin, which turned out to be fabulous and well worth the additional 18 EUR round trip.

We took advantage of the canals by booking a houseboat instead of a hotel.  The boys LOVED this and both said it was their favorite part of the trip! They waved to the tour boats that would float by and talked to the ducks & swans who swam up to the windows.
View of "our" boat from across the canal.

The boys looking down at the boat in the daylight

The swan right outside the living room window

Matthew & I enjoyed the view from the large windows in the living room after the kids went to bed. This is why I love VRBO & AirBnB so much - we can book a 1 bedroom apartment that either has an outdoor space or a view so that we can still enjoy our surroundings after the kids go to sleep in another room.
Our view from the living room in the boat

We only spent 1 day in the city and didn't want to plan too much.  We purchased tickets in advance for the Van Gogh museum and that was a FABULOUS experience.  They have great handheld multimedia devices that have kids programs.  The boys had a great time & were so engaged in the art.  In addition to listening about the paintings, the devices also had games & activities so that they could participate in things that taught them how Van Gogh mixed colors, etc. We didn't expect the kids to last more than an hour in an art museum but they were so engaged that we stayed 2.5 hours!

After this, we wandered through the streets of the city toward Anne Frank's house.  I tried to book tickets the night before, but they were sold out for all of the prior-purchase time slots.  I hoped we could get in during the non-prior purchase time during the afternoon, but no luck.

Instead we ate Dutch pancakes!  Like Prague, Amsterdam was a Gluten Free heaven for us.  I found a plethora of restaurants that offered GF options and plotted them on a map prior to our arrival.  One was the restaurant Pancakes! Amsterdam, which has a new location right next to the Anne Frank house.
Matthew got bacon & chili powder in his. Mine was ham, camembert & a savory raspberry sauce. Both boys got apple & cheese.  B's was GF but the rest of us ordered glutenful options. :) 

We then continued to wander, following canals at leisure.  We stopped by the Cheese Museum and the floating flower market (I had to see tulips, despite it being winter, and the flower market was one of the only places with them right now).  We discovered some great shopping: trendy clothes stores, art galleries, and antique shops.  I want to return with more time during the spring when the tulips are truly in bloom and the weather is warmer.

This was in a store we walked into, and we laughed out loud.  This is so opposite from Germany where most places take cash and not credit cards. I had to take a picture. (By the way, Pancakes! Amsterdam also only takes cards.)

I really wanted to try the restaurant Haesje Claes which has traditional Dutch food & GF options, but the kids were too worn out by the end of Saturday so we headed to the boat & picked up ramen from Wagamama (a chain, but very tasty & has GF options).

For breakfast, we ate at Bagels & Beans. A local chain that offers all sorts of bagel sandwiches or schmears. You can customize any of their bagel combinations with a GF bagel, so nearly the entire menu was available to Brandtley.  He was so excited! Also, when we ordered, the waiter asked if his gf order was due to an allergy & noted it so that his food would be prepared separately.

We didn't order the Weed burger but opted for more breakfasty options. (It's seaweed not pot. Though there is plenty of real "weed" in Amsterdam!)

We swung by Rembrandt's house on our way back to the train station, but didn't have time to go in.
Rembrandt's house

When traveling on foot with the kids, we build in extra time if we have scheduled tickets, which resulted in arriving at the train station 20 minutes early. Long enough for a coffee at one of the prettiest Starbucks I've seen. 

Then we boarded our train, listened to podcasts, music, colored, read books, and arrived two blocks from our house just a few hours later.