Monday, September 29, 2008

How to do Hallstatt with a two year old

Silas was too little to go in the salt mine. So I present you with a guideline on traveling with a two year old ... a fussy one at that. My goals for the day were to see the parts of Hallstatt I had missed two days before, to have no tears or screaming from Si and to do a little shopping.

- Begin by praying that those threatening clouds will not rain.
- Allow your two year to do nearly anything he wants (of course, when the postcard shop owners tsk tsk you for allowing him to hold the stuffed animals for sale ... you have to put the stuffed animals away, no matter what that two year old says).
- If he wants to walk, he walks. If he wants to push the stroller, let him push. Dawdling anyone? Yes.
- Allow two year old to climb every stair of the nearly 100 which go to the Catholic church you want to visit. Up. And down. While it will take forever, just think, you're only carrying two backpacks and a stroller while you make sure he doesn't fall. Things could be worse. He could be screaming.

Bring two other children along. Flatties. That's what we call them. Did you know we brought our friends to Austria with us (a la Flat Stanley, all you teachers)? The Reimer family's 5 children are traveling along in squished form. Their three eldest went to the salt mine with Steve (are you impressed that he took six children?). That left me with the younger two.
- Allow two year old to hold the flat children during the entire 3 hours that you must kill, regardless of your fears that Baby Naomi will end her tour of Austria in Lake Hallstatt.
- Fearfully enter any shops. Be tempted to blame the Christmas ornament you dropped and broke on the two year old, but fess up and plan to buy it. Besides, you are already embarrassed that you brought a two year old into the store.

- Decide the next shop shouldn't have a two year old in it. Leave him parked right outside the shop, where you can see him perfectly and a lady happens to be playing peekaboo from the bank.

- Freak out when you realize you forgot that cars actually go down this narrow little road and rush out to be a responsible parent.

- Make certain to discover for a VERY long time what people do with their bread that hardens so quickly here.

-Visit every bit of water in sight. If your view is of Lake Hallstatt and the surrounding mountains from a high point, make sure to notice the ducks way down on the shoreline and NOT the view. If you are headed to an ancient Roman ruin ... who cares ... it's the creek that matters.

- Go ahead and visit the Beinhaus (repository of who-knows-how-many skulls and femurs) because your toddler will have no idea that it should seem a bit gruesome. Don't plan to stay long, as he'll think it's interesting and want to touch them. Leave. Now.

Days 3 & 4

We loved listening to the cow bells all day and even all night long.

Our family on a windy upper road in Hallstatt

Sunday morning found us deciding which of the two churches in town to visit. As the church bells clanged, we headed into the Lutheran church and slid into the 200 row. I hope we didn't take anyone's regular spot, however, we're not sure why anyone would fight for these pews. With that level of "comfort", there is no sleeping in church occurring either. I didn't sit in them for very long, thanks to Silas (with whom I took a walk in the cemetery) ... but take my word for it.
For the Vosslers who remained in church, the highlight was when the pastor ascended his high and holy place for the German sermon. We have never seen a high and holy place. And I, for one, am bummed that Si needed to make his noisy escape from that echoing building ... I never got to see it.
We swam in the afternoon at the local pool. It was advertised as being warm, but we sure wish they had put some of the energy they used in heating the floor tiles towards that pool water.
Day 4. Back to Hallstatt. We had missed multiple things when there the first day, so we came back to this sweet little village.

Steve and the three biggest boys headed on a cableway to the salt mine. Inside, they wore cool miners' clothes, rode a little train, slid down a slide, learned about a squished salt man ... all the things they were supposed to do. And, since they are Vosslers ... they added a few more attractions. They licked the walls. You know, since it's a SALT mine. And yes, the walls were salty. They collected and, of course, licked rocks. Did you expect any less? They would have brought home the fire salamander Eli was about the catch, too, if someone hadn't quickly stopped them. Apparently that is not safe. I haven't looked it up yet ... but something tells me fire salamanders aren't the Western Fence Lizard we're always catching in Bend.

I'm not sure who is raising these boys.

On the train in the salt mine

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Days 1 & 2

Spying out friendly birds on the Traunsee ("See" means lake, usually)

The Gosaukamm

Just above Italy sits little Austria, three quarters of it bulging with mountains. We had the opportunity to visit the center, right on the edge of the Alps last week. The picture above was the view from our balcony (when the clouds permitted). We stayed in a hidden away little town called Gosau. If you could see directly behind that mountain, you would have a glimpse of the stunning Dachstein Glacier, which we only rarely saw ourselves. Thankfully, the almost constant clouds allowed us plenty of time to play without too much rain.

Heading out, the boys were duly impressed by the speedometer registering 130 km/h in our rental van (did you know that minivans are considered luxury rentals in Austria? Ouch). The parents were impressed by the Danube Valley and the fact that they could find their way with four boys. When we entered the Salzkammergut area, we wandered through "a little town on a gorgeous lake with a mountain by it" (just repeat those words continually throughout this entire trip report and you'll have summed up most of it ... for those who are interested, it was Gmunden on the Traunsee with the imposing Traunstein flanking it). The boys aren't jaded tourists just yet ... they loved it. And the ice cream. They also spent a great deal of time trying to catch birds. Silas spent a great deal of time convincing his parents that travelling with a 2 year old is just plain stupid.

Day 2 was spent in truly picturesque Hallstatt, the oldest town in Austria. It was first settled by the Romans and Celts. We even walked on Roman flagstones. A local shop had renovated and discovered the Roman ruins beneath their building. We enjoyed (between bouts of Silas's crying) visiting that. We end up deciding to come back to Hallstatt on another day later in the week.

While the scenery was fantastic, we also have to give a great big thumbs up to Austria's playgrounds. This one in Hallstatt also had a zip line, a boat IN the water, an island and what we call The Octopus.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Austrian 911

The boys and I (Brooke) took our first trip on the train alone last night. You wonder why this is an accomplishment? I'll tell you, but first take note of that red button.

I'm a small town girl. Trains are new to me anyway. These train doors open and close very quickly, the trains leave very quickly, and these smaller trains do not have easy stroller access, so a mom alone with her children has to make certain none of them are left at the station while she carries the stroller up the steps onto the train that is ready to leave the instant the last person enters or before. We did it!

Do you remember the red button? The one within reach of any average four year old?

We were at the station last week waiting for our train. I was caring for Silas, and Steve was striking up a conversation with a man in German. It occurred to me that I was hearing a German voice asking, "Was ist dein Name?" coming from a direction in which there was only Sammy. And then I heard my son happily holler, "Samuel!!!!" As I looked up, I realized Sammy was hopping up and down speaking to that post. That German voice became quite intense, so I rushed over and immediately saw that red button.

The red button says, "SOS". Sammy had called Austrian 911 and I was quite unable to explain that there was no imminent danger. We almost had a visit from the Polizei. But, thankfully, the man Steve was speaking with came running over and explained that a child had pushed the button.

Phew. Were you surprised it was Sammy?

A trip

Now that Silas seems to have adapted to our little apartment, tomorrow we leave for one week to the Salzkammergut area just to mess him up. We will have less internet service availability, but we hope to update while we're gone. If not, when we return we'll give a report. We have been silent for a week, so we have lots to say anyway ... watch out for a bomb of posting.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Friday, September 12, 2008

New Things Part 2

Thursday night gave us an experience we have never had before. Most of you know that a big part of the reason we decided to live in Austria for three months is to aid the refugees here in practical and spiritual ways. Austria's largest refugee camp is in a little town near us. Right outside the camp, there is a place where the refugees come for various kinds of assistance. On Thursday nights, they offer a free coffee and tea bar. Men, women and children come to hang out and play games in the cafe. We had great fun joining in.

Steve found that, in Russia, they play by completely different checkers rules. Watch out when he gets back ... he now has new powers. [After proofreading this with Steve, he says he still doesn't quite know what those rules are]

Somehow, I taught two seven year old boys (Eli and a new friend from Kosovo) how to play chess .................. in German. I never thought I would be relieved to know that someone spoke German, but even the little German I speak gets me a lot further than my non-existent Chechen.

We could hear different languages everywhere as people interacted. We met people from Mongolia, Iran, Israel, Russia and primarily Chechnya. We have been told that there is very little to do inside the camp. That would explain why that was the first time I had ever seen a table surrounded by teenage boys putting together a Winnie the Pooh puzzle. The tea was wonderful and we enjoyed ourselves immensely (well, that is, until a Russian and an Israeli cornered Steve and tried to talk politics ... boy, they picked the wrong guy).

We have been very impressed. This ministry loves and respects these people and their cultures and children and languages. They are not on a crusade. They aren't playing a numbers game with Christian converts or seeking to Westernize or alter cultures. They seek to love people with the love of Jesus in the short time the refugees are here - and if the opportunity is there, to share with them something most have never actually had the chance to hear.

We have no pictures of this time we spent. It wasn't exactly a tourist activity. Perhaps, as time goes on, we will have some - but just know that we sure wish we could show you what we were able to join in on!

New Things Part 1

It's legal here (you understand that if you live in Bend)... almost expected ... that you would hang your clothing to dry. I did it to be romantic. The other loads have gone into the dryer for the 2 more Euros it costs where we live. Not that I'm doing a lot of laundry - you don't change clothes every day here. (The boys wear their play clothes for quite some time). My neighbor here told me that they can spot Americans by the fact that they have new pants on every day. So, because I don't always love household chores, I've joined them. And I have much less laundry. If you see us in the same clothes all the time when we return, you can know that we are oh-so-European now. And if I get a clothesline, watch out homeowners. Oh wait, we live in the Deschutes River Woods ... hee hee ... Well, if I get a clothesline, I'll just hang it between all the old cars in my backyard. (sigh) It's so hard to keep up with the neighbors out there. [Dear Neighbors ... I don't mean your place.]

The boys' room: I love the yellow comforters. Our bedroom has two of these beds for our very own Fred & Wilma set-up. Speaking of us ... Steve & I celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary tomorrow.

Guess what we get to do in the mornings? Steve and I trade off taking our morning run through the vineyards. Isn't it phenomenal? The smell of grapes is delicious and it is completely peaceful. I miss my running partner (Hi Joy) ... but you can't beat this!

Did you know that Eli temporarily has glasses? We only just obtained them before we left. He apparently has a focusing problem that can be fixed, and it begins with three months of these. This should help his reading and his headaches. And maybe, just maybe, he'll even be able to play his Gameboy for longer periods of time. (smirk)

Monday, September 8, 2008

A beautiful Sunday

Another train picture. I love this one. Here, we are headed to our first Sunday service in Vienna. We will normally attend another church, but we were visiting with our new friends, Russ and Roswitha and their daughters.

It was a wonderful experience. We even sang a German song we were familiar with. Everyone was very friendly. Again, they are so kind to the children. I went along with the boys to children's church - I thought I might learn German better listening to children's teachers (as opposed to that man whom I married who actually understood the sermon).

It was really fun watching the boys try to sing the German songs and play the games. Sammy loved his teacher and her puppet. I took him to the bathroom during his class and he whispered/squealed to me, "It's fuuuuuuuun!" And, yes, it was a good decision for me to go to the children's classes. I even learned my German body parts. They also sang a really cute song about what a good job God did when he made us. It begins with joyfully singing the German equivalent of "Bulls-eye!" We left church and I heard Jake holler to the boy he was playing with, "Tschuss, Jan!"

After church, we went to a Chinese restaurant with our friends. By the way, even Chinese food is different here (but good). I always wondered if we were actually eating Chinese food in the U.S. Now I wonder even more. And this is pretty much how Si behaved.

We weren't finished. Since we were already near the city center, we decided to take in some ice cream. And after our friends went on home, we chose an impromptu (meaning, completely unprepared) visit to Stephansdom. St. Stephan's Cathedral is stunning. Built in the 12th century (okay, okay, all my facts were found on the computer this morning while we homeschooled ... remember, this was an impromptu visit?), anyway, built in the 12th century means the steps are really, really old. There is something about walking where so many people of time past have also placed their feet. Sunday was the feast of Mary's birth, so there were worshippers and candles and, yeah, tourists. The boys were duly impressed with the height and beauty. This was their first Gothic cathedral, so they were actually quite interested. Jake shouted (no joke), "Whoa! That looks medieval!" I quietly informed him that it was.

We took in the south tower. 343 steps. Si had to be carried part of the way. But the three oldest had lots of fun pretending they were about to die. Here is an obligatory from-the-top-of-the-tower shot. See the Necco wafer roof? Viennese citizens donated those tiles when that section was rebuilt. I'm so making St. Stephan's for this year's gingerbread house.

If you come visit, we'll try the north tower and see the bell and the pulpit and all the things we missed because we were so, ahm ... impromptu. Oh, and Steve made me find our way back. I had to locate a German speaking citizen and ask them for directions (in German) to our train. Did you know that if you ask 10 people in Stefansplatz for directions ... only three of them will speak German? hee hee ... we even had three people tell us, "I no speak English." What? We were asking in German!

Naschmarkt or Smashmarkt?

Train ride into Vienna
Steve took this picture of Naschmarkt. It doesn't look crowded here ... but I won't lie to you.

Vienna is having unseasonably warm temperatures. This means - if you're from Bend, Oregon - you are sticky, dripping hot and - if you're Steve Vossler - borderline grumpy. (insert smiley face)

This would not be a day for a man who doesn't like crowds or heat to head to the center of Vienna for Naschmarkt. I knew this, but I didn't mention it. I wanted to be a supportive wife. He told me I shouldn't have been so biblical.

Naschmarkt was crowded, hot, crowded, busy and crowded. But we were thrilled we negotiated our first ever foray into Vienna. We still have our children. We also had delicious hummus and flatbread from a Turkish vendor. And we are finding that Austrians seem to love children - they were always offering tastes of yummy somethings to our boys (and counting them). There seemed to be more delicious food, but we escaped Smashmarkt and we'll try again another day.

Additionally, the boys love riding the train. They don't have to buckle up. If Si hasn't fallen asleep, he arrives on the train and says, "Bu?" That is "Si" for, "Would you please unbuckle me so I can move from seat to seat and look out the window and yell when I see an airplane?" The big boys wish we would let them try to balance without holding onto anything. They call it surfing.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

4 Kerngasse

On Thursday we settled into our new home for the next three months. We are quite pleased with our little abode. It is has two bedrooms, one bath, and a small kitchen. It has been newly remodeled, meaning - when we arrived, a work crew was just finishing up setting the tiles in the kitchen.
Within no time, our kids had made friends. They were climbing the tree outside our apartment, having sword fights with ski poles and, Jake came away from his fall with only a few small flesh wounds. There is a family here from California who has been in Austria for the past 14 years and we've met an Iranian family who have just moved here in August.
Our apartment is ideally located for us as it is walking distance from the local train station (Lokalbahn), which we will take to get to the refugee ministry center, and is close to several small "Supermarkt"s. The following days have been filled with settling in, finding out the ins and outs of grocery shopping (including feeding a large family with micro-sized European quantities), getting monthly train tickets, exchanging money, along with recovering from a heavy dose of jetlag (or, as the boys keep saying --- jet leg).
"Ende gut, alles gut"
"All's well that ends well"
With that I will end my night,

Friday, September 5, 2008

We're in the air

Our flights went virtually flawlessly apart from the usual issues of traveling with children. As to be expected, there came a point where the novelty of flying and the reality of being stuck for hours on end in a small space came head-to-head. During a period of exhaustion Sammy was heard to whine, "Mooooooooom, you said I couldn't cry, you didn't say I couldn't whiiiiiiiine."
You should have seen Steve's face as he tried to juggle sitting with Silas and Sammy during dinner on Austrian Airlines. Each tray came with approximately twenty items which Silas was in constant danger of knocking over, while Brooke peacefully ate her dinner with Jake & Eli and watched a movie. The tables were turned when Brooke packed three boys and herself for the NIGHT into three seats while Steve stretched out with Si.
Apart from tired children, tight spaces, orange juice spilling on Jake's clothes, Silas stuffing brownies into his shirt, shuffling through the Vienna airport with a couple long trains of luggage, a taxi cab driver who just came short of jumping on our luggage to get it into the trunk of his car, everything went great! For this we give thanks to God our precious Father who prepared our way perfectly.

On the way

On Wednesday morning we woke up four sleeping boys at 3:30 am and loaded them up to drive to the Portland airport. My mom and dad dropped us off and helped with the luggage shuffle. With four boys, eight checked bags of luggage, and an asundry of other carry on items, it was quite a sight to see us proceed through the Portland airport. Our initial flight was to Dulles airport in Washington DC and then directly on to Vienna.