Spring Flight Fever

1 Mar
Signs of Spring

A sign of spring – outdoor tables at a local cafe.

I just took a stroll around my familiar but still impressive Vienna neighborhood. While there is still a chill in the air, there is a new fresh feeling and it seems possible… just possible… that spring is not far away. The cafés are putting their tables back outside and there is a new feeling of vitality as the heaviness of winter begins to lift.

The possibility of spring has me dreaming of new explorations… both here in Vienna and beyond. It’s always a pleasure for me to do a little flight treasure hunting, excavating flight possibilities with affordable potential.

While I have my “goto” search engines to easily give me a glimpse of what might be possible, sometimes, you have to dig deeper. Flight search engines are not created equal, and while there are many good ones out there, they each have their own unique set of benefits and characteristics.

skyscanner logoRecently I have come to appreciate the breadth and flexibility of the search engine Skyscanner.com. Typically, you can count on them for finding some of the lowest fairs on flights all around the world. But they also have a few distinct search options that have me singing their praises. Here they are:

Broad Departure and Destination Location Options.  With Skyscanner, you don’t have to choose just one city for your arrival or departure when digging for buried flight treasure. Perhaps you are looking for the cheapest flight to a region and are flexible about where you land. Or maybe you’re ready to have an adventure, but are open to where you go. Skyscanner is a great tool for you.

With Skyscanner you can select the country of your possible departure and/or destination rather than just a city. The gives way to a great deal of flight-searching ease and opens up a whole new world of affordable flight options.

Wide Flexible Date Search Options.  Looking for the best price on your flight but don’t have a specific date? No problem with Skyscanner! You can search for best prices on flights for a specific week, month, even year. With a little date flexibility, flight costs don’t have to be a limitation or deal breaker. There are some AMAZING prices out there that can easily light a fire under your next adventure.

Here are a few examples to wet your traveling appetite. All of these great priced flights were quickly found using the flexible departure and return date option on Skyscanner:

  • USA to London, roundtrip, $485
  • London to Tokyo, roundtrip, $451
  • USA (San Jose) to Costa Rica, roundtrip, $248

While some of these cheapest flights may not exactly fit your date or travel preferences, they can also be a good clue for budget airlines where you can investigate further. Also, when looking for amazing flight deals, don’t forget to check neighboring airports and locations that are just a quick cheap fight away.

Looking for more flight finding tips? Check out my earlier blog Save Money on Flights with a bit more on some of my “goto” flight search engines.

Well, do you have a little pre-spring flight fever? Once you see how affordable flights can be, it can open up a whole new door of travel possibility.

My easy Sunday afternoon continues here in Vienna. My hostess has just returned from her most recent work journey in the States. She and her family are happily reunited. Things are pretty quiet at the house as she wades through the deep sea of her jet lag. Never a fun process.

Good-bye for now from Vienna where I am hopeful for spring and enjoying my (not quite yet…) spring flight fever.

 

 

Vienna Winter

23 Feb

It’s a grey Monday in Vienna.  The common sentiment I seem to hear lately is, “Is winter over yet?”  In truth, winter here has not been that cold…. but still winter, nonetheless.  Recently the cold has diminished enough to rain instead of snow.  But the sentiment and mood of a long grey winter remains. The early birds are starting to arrive which gives me hope that perhaps spring is not far around the corner.

I took my German test today.  If was our first of two tests in the trimester.  This past weekend I did my best to fill my brain with the words and grammatic understanding from the course so far.  I tried to polish up some very rusty studying skills and diligently wrote note cards trying to understand and remember everything.  And the test?  Well, in truth I found it hard. It began with a listening and reading test which were both quite easy.  But when it came time for the grammer I was unsure about many of my answers.  After the test I was glad to learn I wasn’t alone as other classmates left the room wiping the sweat off their brow.  The good news is, it’s over.

After class I needed some post-test unwind time… to shake off some of my nervous and studying energy.  I took a walk around not far from where I live, near the Rathaus or City Hall.

Even though winter is grey and long, Vienna does it pretty well.  For the most part, people embrace winter here as well as the many possible winter activities. This is a bit contradictory to my nature as when it is cold I like to hibernate and stay warm. But I can’t deny my slight enchantment with winter Vienna.Skating at Eintraum, Vienna

Today on my post-test stroll I wandered by the Eistraum (translation is ice dream) an impressive skating and winter play area in front of the Rathaus.  It’s a maze of ice skating paths and arenas for young and old alike.  I stopped and caught a glimpse of some of the afternoon skaters, some whizzing by and others relying on the wall for stability.

Eintraumpaths

While it was fun to watch, I can’t say that I wanted to grab my skates and glide along. Perhaps too many memories of adolescent Friday nights and bad 80s music.

So for now, I am warm and cumfy back at home.  Life has been somewhat quiet lately as I’ve settled into my modest caretaking role while my hostess is away in the US.  And the grey winter continues.

How is life for you wherever you may be?  It’s always good to hear from you!

Valentine’s Diversion

15 Feb Lightcorridor

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day.  A day in truth I typically forget and don’t pay much attention to.  When I exited the underground into the heart of the city, I was greeted by the always impressive Saint Stephen’s Cathedral and a feisty (in a laid back Viennese sort of way) assortment of costumed workers selling tours in a wide selection of languages.  I turned the corner and noticed a few men selling brightly colored roses.  I paid them no mind and continued on my way, enjoying the sunshine and focused on navigating to my tourist destination for the day.

Ever the bad navigator, I walked in the wrong direction.  But perhaps not wrong after all.  I passed by an impressive building, doors open with a red carpet welcoming a steady collection of people.  I paused and looked hesitatantly, curious what was happening.  A kind man offered me a red envelope and then said something to me in German (which mostly I still don’t understand…)  “Ich spreche Englisch…” I offered.  Like many Viennese, he easily flipped the switch and changed his conversation to English.  “I have a Valentine letter for you from God” he said as he offered the red envelope in a friendly and gentle manner.  The building as it turns out is the home of the Archbishop and once a year he opens the doors… on Valentine’s day.  I was invited in for a spell to have some tea and rest a bit in the chapel if I like.  “Sure” I said.  Who am I to turn down a Valentine’s invitation from God.  So, gratefully, I accepted the letter and made my way inside.

I followed the red carpet elegantly escorting me into the courtyard with friendly yet reserved folks there to welcome me and others guests.  There were lit torches along the pathway that eventually led to the chapel.  At the entrance I was offered a sheet of paper to write down my prayers or intentions as well as some candles to light.  I made my way into the intimate space filled with gentle music being played and sung live from the first few rows.  I took a moment to pray and made and effort to hold back the tears and sobs that often want to come rolling out when I enter a place of prayer.  I did my best to lay down my burdens for the day and took a moment to reflect surrounded by the quiet energy of the other visitors who seemed somewhat like me, a bit unsure but also enchanted by this unexpected diversion.

I brought my written intentions to the front of the chapel and dropped them into the bowl collecting them, lit my candles and selected a bible verse printed on strips of paper in a bowl to the right.  I took a glimpse at the verse thinking perhaps my A-2 level German had prepared me to understand just a bit…. but that was not the case.  Shortly after, I left with my bible verse and Valentine’s letter from God, both in German to be understood or translated at a later time I suppose.  But still, a gift nonetheless.

After that, I continued on my way.  I reworked my navigation, became clear I went (sort of) in the wrong direction, and shortly after arrived at my planned destination.  But still, appreciative of my unexpected Valentine’s diversion and grateful for the gentle reminder of love and the simple but generous act of a small collection of volunteers in the heart of Vienna.

Featured image, a burst of light through a narrow corridor in the heart of Vienna.

Humbling

4 Feb ViennaSunset

I just came home from German class and running a few errands.  When I walked in the woman who cleans the home where I stay was already here and at work. She doesn’t speak any English, so often we smile and don’t have much to say. Today I braved a few German words… “You are a bit early” I said in what I hope was proper German. It seems I am more likely to try to communicate in German immediately after class. It is like I am more tuned into the language and less in my American brain. A few minutes later we had a brief dialog about some vegetables in the refrigerator and that I like to drink warm water.  Her face lit up and smiled as I did my best to express some simple thoughts in German.  Basic. Not much.  But still, it is more than when I arrived here four months ago.

I can’t help but notice how humbling it is to learn and speak another language. Going from feeling like a “master” in my domain to feeling somewhat like a child. German class today was pretty good but it was also a bit par for the course… sailing along understanding about 30 – 40 % of what the teacher is saying. Doing my best to ask questions in class in German…. my simples questions often misinterpreted by our teacher.

It is quite a new experience for me, being in “midlife” learning and meandering through the beginnings of learning a new language. It is different from when I studied French in high school, tolerating the lessons, then forgetting them when I walked out the door. I was like many of the kids who I taught in Korea… not understanding the value of learning a second language and no real practical place to speak or practice it.

Being surrounded by the language I am learning is quite a different things. Here as a student I am no longer in the comfort of my familiar territory. I am the lone American and native English speaker in my German class. I am also lumped in the with sea of other Americans, some of whom are unwilling or uninterested in learning another language. From my time here in Vienna studying German I have come to more fully understand that as an English speaker from the large country of the United States and the international acceptance of the English language, it is perhaps more challenging for me to let go of my native tongue a bit and make room for play with a new one.

Lately a few people have contacted me for English tutoring. I can’t help but notice my restored ease returning to my comfort zone and place of confidence. But as I consider tutoring, I also try to keep in mind and remember my own vulnerability in the German classroom. This experience alone is an education.

As I am surrounded by mostly my European classmates, many of them speaking two or more languages, I am indeed in good company but in some ways a world apart when it comes to language. They live on a continent where neighboring countries are like the next state, each with its own culture and language. The need as well as the access to the a multi-language world is quite different from the wide English-speaking canvas of the United States.

But I suppose we don’t travel to stay the same. Don’t explore new territories to not be challenged and learn new things about ourselves.

It is truly possible in Vienna to stay in a mostly English-speaking world. Often when I go to shops and am feeling unconfident or shy, I ask first “Sprechen Sie Englisch” before continuing the conversation. Most places someone will speak at least a little English, but I have encountered some with limited to no English-speaking. Sometimes when I try to fumble my way through a bit of German I am responded to in English.  And so it goes.

It is a grey wintry day here in Vienna. My hosts have been on their own adventure in the States. In just a few more days one of my hosts and their daughter return to Vienna while the mom remains in the States for a bit to continue her own work and adventure. It’s been nice to have a bit of time and space with the house to myself tending to the few basic things that need care while they are away.

All is well here as I continue to make my way with German class and a few local connections and commitments. Good-bye for now and thanks for reading!

Featured image at top:  A glowing Vienna sunset strolling home in the late afternoon.

German Learnin’ and Gross National Happiness

25 Jan

It’s a sleepy Sunday morning in Vienna.  I woke up to the early morning sound of snow shoveling.  I peeked out my window and there it was.  A fresh blanket of snow.  It is a rare sight this winter in Vienna. It is funny how a little snow still evokes a child-like happiness in me.  While is it a quiet, gray day…the snow covered streets brought a bit of brightness into the morning.

I have been tucked in bed sorting through some of my German lessons for the week.  Our new trimester started a few weeks ago.  Beginning the new term, it was as if our German course went through a metamorphosis over the Christmas holiday.  The course, content and speed of learning has all increased.  With the new term comes a fresh new array of faces. Students from Italy, Vietnam, South Korea among other places.  All of us swimming together in the often foggy waters of learning German.

WebsterUnivVienna

As part of my New Years enthusiasm, I joined a few expat groups to get my year started.  The AWA (American Women’s Organization), Inter Nations, as well as a group on meet-up.com called Internationals in Wien.  These groups have given a jump-start to my new year with a fresh array of faces and activities.

Earlier this week I joined the AWA on a tour of Webster University, an American University with a satellite campus in Vienna, among other locations. As a native of St. Louis, MO, I knew Webster University well. It’s main campus is based in a tree-lined neighborhood of St. Louis called Webster Groves. I went to high school just down the street. Months ago when I discovered Webster had a campus here it peaked my interest.  So when the opportunity to take a tour came about, I jumped at the chance.

WebsterCourtyardIt was great to be at the tour, see the beautiful building and reconnect a bit with the lively energy and intellect of Universities and all that comes with that.  Also great was to meet many of the women who attended.  I had the pleasure of connecting with American women who’s travels were rich and unexpected.  One lived four years in Cambodia.  Another was moving to Tokyo in a few weeks.  While in some ways I do long for a life and place that feels more like “home”, I can’t deny the stories of life in foreign lands still inspires me to the core.

While visiting Webster I learned they had a guest speaker that night.  It was Dr. Tho Ha Vinh, Program Director at the Center for Gross National Happiness in the small Asian country of Bhutan.  It turns out the Dr. Vinh grew up in part in Vienna and has ties with Austria.  His topic caught my attention, a theme in general of interest to me, and nicely in line with the book I am reading, What Happy People Know.  This was an opportunity not to be missed, so I returned later that evening to attend.

vinh_thoI first heard of Bhutan and their Gross National Happiness project while watching a documentary called Happy. It explores
human happiness through interviews with people from all walks of life in 14 different countries, weaving in the newest findings of positive psychology.  Bhutan and their GNH initiative was featured and it peaked my interest.

The general idea of Gross National Happiness is to take into consideration a wider, yet still specific and measurable, range of values and use this as a guide and tool for decision-making for the country. Bhutan is indeed a tiny little country with a total population of about 750,000 people.  As mentioned by Dr. Vinh, up until the 1970s they still had primarily a bartering economy. And while since then it has developed in more modern ways, the aim and priority is still to serve the people in a more balanced and complete way rather than being completely driven by financial gain and the GNP or GDP.

Dr. Vinh shared there are specific and measurable way that they define happiness.  Here are their qualifications:

  • Happiness cannot exist while others suffer.
  • It can come only from serving others, living in harmony with nature, and realization of our own inner wisdom.

Not the typical driving forces of a country!  He went on to describe their Four Guiding Pillars.

  1. Good Governance
  2. Preservation of the Environment
  3. Preservation of Culture
  4. Fair and Sustainable Socio-economic Development

It was a breath of fresh air to hear Dr. Vinh share Bhutan’s exploration.  Admittedly, he acknowledged this country is not without challenges.  He shared that as Bhutan continues to develop in modern ways, their challenges grow and increase.  But as a nation they are committed to decision-making based on a different set of values. Listening to his talk was a good reminder to consider a wider set of guiding pillars in my own life and decision making.

And so now my snowy Vienna morning continues.  My fabulous host family busily prepares today for their impending departure. The whole family will have an adventure together for a few weeks in the fine city of New Orleans, my former home. I will remain here and enjoy the progression of my life and German Learning in Vienna.

Bye for now from wintry Vienna!

Unleashing Happiness in the New Year

17 Jan

UNLEASHING-HAPPINESSIt’s a New Year, and like many I am doing the checks and balances of my life — tending to new things and seeking to sustain, grow and develop myself and my life.  Recently on Facebook a friend posted a book that inspired him, What Happy People Know. Impressed by his testimony, I took a leap and ordered the book for myself. A friend and mentor suggested to him that he write his own book on happiness.  I thought that was good advice and I spent some time considering the lessons I have learned in the world of happiness.

I have had my share of blessings and challenges on the sometimes rocky road of happiness.  As I step back and take a moment to consider, these are the lessons and ideas foremost on my mind in the New Year as I continue to forge my way.

1.  The Happiness Exercise.  Recently I reviewed a course that I initially took several years ago offered by the organization The Art of Living. They had us do a simple exercise… write down the answer to this statement: I would be happy if only________. You fill in the blank. Of course I had my own list of answers. Then they invited us to consider, what was on this list 3 months ago? 6 months ago?  And once/if you got those things, were you then happy or was there something ELSE to put on the list as a condition for your happiness?

I couldn’t help but take note of some specific things that I was wanting in order to be happy in my life.  Some of these things have been fulfilled in the past couple of years.  And the truth is, without much thought or effort, a new set of criteria has sneakily made its way on the list.

The lesson for me is to continue to explore having access to happiness without a set of criteria.  That happiness is our nature. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have goals and dreams and pursue and develop them… but I am exploring the well of happiness that is available independent of all that.

2.  Life has times that are enduring and times to be endured.  This again is wisdom from the Art of Living organization.  It was a quote read recently at a regular gathering I attend.  We had just completed the Sudarshan Kriya, their cornerstone spiritual practice.  I thought it was wise advice and have kept the notion with me to usher in a greater flow of happiness.  Rather than being frustrated with hard times or expecting it should be different, I am practicing simply noticing it… and letting it be what it is… not expecting all times to be enduring, and allowing for times that are to be endured.  And also practicing detaching a bit from it all, bringing a little more grace to the whole ride.

3.  Everyone is doing the best they can.  And everyone makes mistakes.  This is one of my key lessons for the New Year.  I became clear recently just how little space I had for other people (and myself) to make mistakes and that I was carrying a big pile of shoulds around with me (he should do this, she should know that…).  I got clear how these shoulds are not serving me at all and it serves me much better to consider instead that everyone is doing the best they can and that everyone makes mistakes.  I am practicing in the face of this lesson responding with something like, “Oh, a mistake…” instead of anger.  I am getting clear that the shoulds and the anger are hurting me most of all and don’t do anything to foster relationships in my life.  In truth this is a big lesson for me and definitely a solid block in the foundation of my happiness.

4.  What sustains you when all falls away?  This question was asked of me during a particularly challenging time.  For me, the answer was simple — taking walks and feeling the sun on my face. I was encouraged to lean on this whenever I needed it… and truly to allow the simple good of it to be enough.  I have walked myself through the most challenging of times from losing all my personal belongings and my city being destroyed by hurricane Katrina, to dealing with at times unescapable anxiety. Discovering the answer to this for me gave me a place to gently lean.  And in leaning on that, it actually provided a space for all that I no longer needed to continue to fall away.

5.  The Gifts of Spiritual Practice.  I love spiritual practice.  For me, it is like having a home here on earth that allows me connect with myself and who I fully am… and to visit that on a regular business. There are many spiritual practices that are a regular part of my life.  Chanting with the Soka Gakkai International, practicing Sudharsan Kriya with The Art of Living, Reiki, Yoga. How wonderful that I can take these practices with me no matter where I am in the world and feel at home. When visited regularly, spiritual practice feels to me like building a foundation of unshakable strength.

Just the other day after chanting for a bit, I felt a distinct feeling in my gut, in my belly.  I checked in to see what that feeling was … and there it was, it was happiness.  I was there in my simple room with not much happening.  That feeling was the fruit of spiritual practice, independent of what was or wasn’t happening in my life.

6.  It’s important to feel good emotionally/physically and to take the time to tend to those things.  With traveling and frequent change in my life, it is easy to disregard or let important things go a little to the way side.  In the New Year, I am renewing my effort to care for myself in ways that support my physical and emotional happiness.  It doesn’t take much effort, but it does take my intention and action.  For me, this can include taking hot baths, getting a massage, regularly going to a yoga class, finding and connecting with friends.  These things are important… but also require my attention in order to happen.  They are not things to be disregarded or put on that back burner.  What are they for you?  How do you tend to your health and well-being?

Those are my top 6 thoughts on happiness for the New Year, a tiny dent in my book of happiness.  I am sure there is an infinite list, but those are the ideas that most have my attention at this time.

What about you?  What is in your book of happiness?  Please share, it’s always great to hear from you!

5 Affordable Ways to Take the Travel Leap

11 Jan

TRAVEL LEAPFour years ago I took the travel leap with very little money in my bank account relying mostly on a work exchange arrangement in Germany to make my way. As my initial 6 week journey expanded and grew, I began to discover new and useful resources that make it possible to continue to travel on a modest budget.

The point here is simple.  If you want to travel, internationally or even within your own country or continent, it is truly possible.  Money doesn’t have to be the thing the keeps you saddled at home.  Here are some viable travel resources that can help set free your travel dreams and make them a reality.

Helpx.net
This is my favorite travel resource and the one I have relied on most heavily in my travels.  The concept here is simple:  connecting hosts offering room and board in exchange for work with travelers. For a modest yearly subscription (20 Euros, about $24 USD, for 2 years) you literally get access to the world.

The membership gives you access to hundreds of hosts supplying detailed information and photos about their exchange opportunity. There is also a rating system allowing travelers to rate and offer input about hosts they have visited. This is very helpful and increases your confidence about a decision to stay with a host. There are even family friendly destinations so you can pack up the kids and go!

I have written in more detail about helpx on an earlier post, Travel the World with Helpx.

Workaway
This site is similar to helpx, offering work opportunities in exchange for room and board.  I have found many listings are the same on Workaway and Helpx… however there are still some differences and distinctions.  You can check out the listings for free.  If you find an opportunity that is calling you, membership and access to contact information is just 23 Euros (about $25 USD) for a two-year subscription.

Servas
Servas International is an international, non-profit encompassing an international network of hosts and travelers. They are founded on the premise that hospitality and cultural interaction are the essential tools for achieving conditions for people to live in peace and unity.  Members around the world offer homestay opportunities to member travelers.  If you’d like to learn more visit servas.org.

Couchsurfing
I am not an expert couchsurfer, but I am glad the option exists.  If you are not familiar with couchsurfing, it is similar in its mission of servas seeking to build connections and foster understanding across cultures.  Many members offer a “free couch” or bed for a few nights.  Profiles are quite descriptive and there is again the opportunity for feedback from other members allowing you to travel and make plans with greater confidence.

I look to couchsurfing when I want to take a quick getaway, perhaps for just a few nights, and would like to stay with someone local and also keep my budget low.  It is definitely an option to consider when navigating the globe, or just looking for some new scenery for a few days.

Trusted Housesitters
Have you considered house sitting?  I have… and while I don’t have much experience with it on the international scene, I just became a member at trustedhousesitters.com.  This is the largest site on the web and the fastest growing with the best functionality.  With a New Years deal, I received an annual membership for about 60 Euros ($70 USD).

I imagine this site, much like other online opportunities, begins with a well completed profile.  They provide the opportunity to file a police check as well as external personal and professional references.  It might be the ticket to your next international adventure.

What are you waiting for?
Whether you are seeking to change your life and travel full-time or simply for a way to temporarily launch beyond the boundaries of your current location, these are some great ways to do so.  With some common sense, a bit of preparation, and attention to details — these are all safe, viable and accessible ways to take the travel leap. Why not check them out?

And if hitting the road (or the airways) is not your destiny at the moment, remember with many of these organizations you can also be a host.  Helpx and Workaway may be a great way to get that gardening project underway or whatever it is you have been putting off around the house… and be of service to a traveler and bring a little international flavor into your life.

Do you have any travel plans on the horizon?  Or experience to share with any of these organizations?  It’s always great to hear from you!

 

Prosit Neujahr!

3 Jan

Happy New Year!  2015 has slipped into our lives.  I find I am responding in typical New Years fashion, reassessing some things in my life, setting new priorities and taking action.  My New Year’s celebration here in Vienna was a great introduction to some of the traditions here in Austria.

mushroomcupAustria brings an element of sophistication and elegance to the New Year.  It was a cold New Years eve in Vienna, but still we spent a bit of time in the center of town, the heart of the celebration. We were surrounded by booths selling spiced wine and Austria’s favorite symbols of good luck for the New Year, including the mushroom and the pig. I was enchanted by the stage teaching people to waltz, watching the pairs glide around the dance floor bundled up in the cold winter air.

Back at the home front we shared a good meal and partook in the New Year’s tradition called Bleigießen, or pouring lead. It’s quite simple.  Each person gets a lead trinket shaped maybe like a bell or a heart, almost like a monopoly piece. This is put in a spoon, held over a candle and melted.  When it is completely melted, you dump it into cold water and watch what happens.  The melted lead instantly hardens into a new shape.  Here is the trick… you next look at the shape and see what it looks like to you and whatever it is, is your message for the new year.  As we were playing, we checked out websites to learn the meanings of the many different shapes and symbols.  Here are mine.  What do you think they look like?

Bleigießen, a led pouring New Years Eve tradition.

led-drop2

At midnight my Austrian hosts were sure to dance the traditional waltz at midnight.  The Pummerin bell at St. Stephens Cathedral rang.  It only rings only once annually, at midnight to bring in the New Year.  Neighbors were shooting off fireworks.  And it was the New Year!

Welcome GyspyWomanCafe.com!gwc

I have been ringing in the New Year with a few changes here.  You may notice that I have a new URL and with it a  slightly new title for my blog – www.GypsyWomanCafe.com.  With this change has come some blog updates, a little redecorating and rearranging the furniture.  Here are a few of the highlights!

New Blog Topics

With the introduction of Gypsy Woman Cafe comes a refined and expanded list of blog topics.  Included are the familiar Travel Stories and Travel Tips.  I am introducing a new topic called A Sip of Wisdom, where I will continue to share experiences and stories related to some of my favorite topics including spirituality, health and well-being.  The Blog Topics menu can be easily accessed on the right sidebar of my blog. If you’d like to learn more, please visit my new START PAGE to get the full details.

Graphic Design and Reiki

Graphic Design and Reiki

I have expanded my menu to include a more detailed presentation of the services I offer, Graphic Design and Reiki.  With my combined thirty years of experience in Graphic Design and Reiki, I am grateful to offer these services no matter where I am in the world.  Please let me know if I can be of service!

Facebook Fan Page

I have updated my Facebook Fan Page to reflect my new title and URL with new graphics as well.  Visit facebook.com/gyspywomancafe to take a look!  And if you haven’t already, I’d love it if you’d “like” my page!

And so my changes for 2015 have begun.  I look forward to keeping my momentum with a few new changes in other areas of my world.  Top of my list of “new beginnings” for 2015 is to FINALLY find a yoga class I like and attend regularly during my time here.

How about you?  Any new changes for 2015?  Let me know!  It’s always good to hear from you!

Christmas Enchantment

26 Dec Christmas in Vienna

It was Christmas day.  I was needing a little jaunt about.  So I walked out the door to see where my feet would take me.  I didn’t expect much other than quiet streets and fresh air.

As I wandered not far down the road I was soon in the familiar museum quarter.  I started to see pockets of people and soon realized that the Christmas market by the museums seemed to be in action… and so I partook!  Despite my full serving of Christmas markets this holiday season, I found I still had room for a little pleasure from one last market.  Just one more glimpse at the hand-made goods.  And, of course, just one more serving of roasted chestnuts, maroni in German… my favorite.

My last Christmas Market of the year located between the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Art in Vienna.

My last Christmas Market of the year located between the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Art in Vienna.

Maroni, or roasted chestnuts.  A holiday favorite and my last sampling of the season.

Maroni, or roasted chestnuts. A holiday favorite and my last sampling of the season.

A few things caught my eye and soon I made my first purchase.  It was a beautiful spatula made from olive wood.  I have come to love my host’s wooden spatulas for cooking, and this was a dreamy version of them with swirls and patterns in the wood. Soon after I stopped, mesmerized….but not making a purchase…at was has become my favorite book maker this holiday season, Bomo Art from Budapest.  With their traditional handmade books and rich designs, I am a new fan.  Check them out if you like at their website.

My feet then led me just a little further into the inner city.  I was in good company with a gathering of international visitors and tourists.  Soon I was in the heart of the city and once again, simply enchanted by Vienna.  All decked out in her fancy Christmas decorations, I discovered visual delight around every corner.  It was raining that day which cast a slight gloss on the city, merely adding to her beauty.

Christmas beauty in the inner city of Vienna

Christmas beauty in the inner city of Vienna

Christmas in Vienna

Wet winter streets in Vienna

Wet winter streets in Vienna

I took a peek inside the St. Peter’s cathedral and was simply blown away by the feeling of reverence and visual beauty.  I took in a few extended moments of silence, awe and prayer.  Not long after I wandered again by St. Stephens Cathedral.  I had visited this cathedral before, but had heard there was a great view from the top that I had not yet checked out.  I snooped around trying to find the way to get there and soon found a place to buy lift tickets for just 5 Euro.  Okay, I thought… and bought a ticket.

The astounding beauty and reverence of St Peter's Cathedral.

The astounding beauty and reverence of St Peter’s Cathedral.

As I boarded the tiny elevator with five other guests, I said a silent prayer that I didn’t have a panic attack from feeling claustrophobic.  This, as it turns out was the wrong prayer… because when we exited the elevator I was shocked by another tiny area – but this one was at the top of the cathedral giving way to the outdoors and the city.  There were no solid floors, but grated floors and walls leaving me feeling completely vulnerable and triggering my fear of heights.  “Oh… I should have thought about this before hand…” I said aloud to myself and no one else in particular.  After exiting the elevator, I stayed glued to a small patch of wall and solid floor, as panic flashed through my eyes.  I did my best to breath and relax for a few minutes until gratefully the elevator returned and I quickly made my exit.  Phew.

It was still a beautiful outing nonetheless.  And another of those simple but powerful moments that remind you what travel has to offer… unexpected moments of beauty and enchantment in a way the feels fresh, new and alive.

With that, I wish you much peace, comfort, rest and delight with the remaining time on your holiday season, wherever you are in the world.  And rich blessings for the New Year!

The Three Days of Christmas

21 Dec Schonbrunn palace

It’s a cool evening on the solstice in Vienna.  I am tucked away in my room in the midst of a bustling city preparing for the holidays. Christmas trees are being sold on every corner and the Christkindl markets are still in full swing.

Today I returned from a one-night get-away with my generous hosts here in Vienna.  We snuck away to a neighboring town, met with friends, and attended a holiday concert featuring… Irish Music.  This event has become an annual tradition in my hosts’ household, each year showcasing a new selection of traditional and more contemporary Celtic music.  This year three groups were featured, my favorite being the vibrant sounds of Beoga.  They were the last act of the evening and when their music burst into the room the feeling was… Yes!  Their sound was fresh, fun and alive…in a traditional Irish sort of way.

There was some strange weather in the air this solstice weekend.  It began with the explosion of color in the sky at sunset that looked like lava flooding the clouds.  It was unlike anything I had ever seen before.  I was told it came from warm air that is somehow distinct because of the surrounding mountains.  This picture below doesn’t do it justice, but gives you an idea of what it was like.

Fire Clouds

Fire Clouds

Earlier this week I took a little departure to the Christkindel market at the Schonbrunn Palace. It was an impressive welcome with the Palace and grand traditional Christmas tree.  I took in what has now become the familiar elements of an Austrian Christmas Market…  the holiday Punch, a spicy wine concoction; holiday favorites like goulash soup and, my favorite, roasted chestnuts. The goods at the market reflected Austria’s serious approach to the holidays with its traditional Christmas gems and crafts.  It’s quite a treat to just hop on the underground and be able take in events such as this.

Christkindel Market Schonbrunn Palace

Christkindl Market Schonbrunn Palace

Today has been a quieter day for me with a simple stroll around my Vienna neighborhood and lunch at a local eatery.  I still appreciate just the simple beauty of Vienna and my neighborhood.  It’s great to have a quiet day simply to just take it in.  Here are a few photos.

My neighborhood in Vienna My neighborhood in Vienna

Today at lunch, as I was preparing to leave the restaurant, the owner handed me my left-overs bundled up and ready to go.  He was so kind and I wanted to show my appreciation. I had to laugh as my natural inclination after nearly two years in South Korea is still to… bow… and I did, without even thinking about it.  In truth I am still a big fan of the bow… as well as the two-handed Korean wave good-bye.  I suppose new habits die-hard.

Bye the time I leave Austria, I imagine my greeting and leaving habits will be all twisted up.  In both Korea and Austria the familiar American hug is often met with suspicion and confusion.  I can still remember the time I innocently reached out to hug a young Korean friend after sharing a personal moment.  As I went for the hug I saw the look of horror in her eyes. I quickly pulled back recalling, that’s right… in Korea you don’t hug.  In Austria one says hello and good-bye with a handshake or a kiss on each cheek.  It is still a bit odd for me negotiating with new friends and acquaintances what is appropriate.  I am sure wherever I am next, I will carry over these Austrian traditions and be some sort of a multi-cultural hugging, bowing, kissing American.

Christmas now is just a few days away.  I am grateful to be spending the holidays in Vienna in the comforts of my new “home” and host family.  Christmas is a little different here.  In total, there are sort of three days of Christmas in Austsria. Typically, the 24th is the big family celebration and that is the day presents are exchanged.  The presents are not delivered by Santa Claus but instead by the Christkindl, a symbolic figure who I am told looks like an angel sort of person with blond hair.  Here is an image I found of the Christkindle.  The following days, Dec. 25 and 26th, are also official holidays and typically spent more relaxed in the company of family and holiday food.

Christkindl

Christkindl

Ah, so now a bit more time relaxing into my evening.  What about you, what will you do for this holiday?  Any new traditions?  It’s always great to hear from you!

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