Can you tell I've been to Vienna since I last posted on here? :-)
Neil and I had a fabulous time in Austria. Early start on the Saturday meant we were able to drop our bags off at our hotel before midday and set off to have a look around a few of the 20 Christmas markets that take place in Vienna during December. We have been to Salzburg and Innsbruck before, so we knew what to expect, but there's something so magical about the twinkling lights, the aroma of mulled wine and hot punch wafting past your nostrils, the chatter of the crowds and the cold freshness of the air that captivates me anew every time I visit Austria at this time of year. We wandered around a few markets, tried some sausage and sauerkraut (sausage was fine, but sauerkraut is not for me, even when my taste buds aren't fried to blazes! ) and some mulled wine - and on that point, I am pleased to report that my taste buds are happy with mulled wine or hot punch in small doses, but the more alcoholic the content, the less I can tolerate it. It was fun trying some different ones to find out, however, and Neil manfully finished anything I couldn't drink.....
By mid-afternoon, our early start was catching up with us, so we went back to the hotel for a rest. Our hotel was really centrally-based, next to the Rathaus (Town Hall) and the Parliament building, close to a couple of underground stations and tram stops. It was a modern "statement" type hotel and before we went, we looked at some photos on their website to get a feel for what the rooms would be like. We were a teeny bit concerned that the en-suite walls appeared to be made of glass but assumed that there would be some frosting somewhere to preserve one's modesty (or at least, try to keep romance alive!). But no. The walls were clear glass! Thankfully, though, there was a blind on the wall that looked out onto the main part of the room and we lowered that - although we didn't discover until our last morning that there was a way to block the view totally by twisting a knob on the wall (I hadn't spotted that, so there wasn't total blackout!). By the time we got into our room, we were both so tired that we just took our coats and shoes off and flopped down on the bed.
Two hours later, I woke up, feeling mighty refreshed and ready to get showered and go out for another look around the markets and then for dinner. As part of his research into our trip, Neil had found details of a local restaurant serving typical Austrian food (Wiener Schnitzel), so we wandered through some markets and made our way to the restaurant at about nine o'clock. In we went, were given a table and some menus and made our choice....then we noticed that no one in the restaurant was actually speaking German (lots of Italians and a couple of other Brits), the walls were yellow with nicotine stains - smoking in public places is still permitted, which felt very alien to us - and the two owner/waiters were doing their best to yellowify the walls even more by puffing away at every opportunity! Our food arrived and it is no exaggeration to say that it was a mountain of meat of indeterminate origin, most of it flattened and cooked in breadcrumby stuff, some of it just sitting on the plate in a lump-of-meat fashion and, beneath the meatfest, a pile of chips! The concession to healthy food was a wee bowl of salad, which consisted of insipid lettue, grated carrot and (oh yes!) sauerkraut....all swimming in vinegary dressing. Put it this way, the whole meal experience doesn't rank in our top 10 of gastronomic experiences! We gave up pretty soon and waddled out of the restaurant feeling very.....meat-bound, I suppose. Luckily, we had about a 15 minute walk back to our hotel, which made us feel a bit better, getting some fresh air and exercise.
The next morning, we were still feeling so full from the meat bonanza of the previous night that we couldn't really do justice to the fabulous breakfast at the hotel: great choice of fresh fruits, cereals and yoghurts, cold meats, fish and cheeses, hot food, pastries, bread, jam etc..... we nibbled on a few things before admitting defeat and heading out for the day.
Over our three and a half/four days in Vienna, we managed to pack in quite a lot, apart from the numerous Christmas markets! On our first full day, we went to the Belvedere art gallery, where there is lots of original Klimt, including his very famous "The Kiss" and various other artist, including Monet and Manet. We spent a few hours happily absorbing some culture and then went back to one of our Christmas markets for something to eat (we had felt full up all day from the meat mountain of the previous night!). Back to the hotel for an early-ish night and up bright and early (okay, not really!) to experience more Vienna, this time making our way to Schonbrunn Castle and Zoo. We had thought that we would spend a couple of hours at the zoo and then spend the rest of the day at the castle, but no, we spent pretty much the whole day wandering around the zoo! And what held our interest for the longest? Was it the giant pandas? The tigers? The lions? The meerkats???? No, we spent at least an hour feeding the squirrels! There were beautiful red and black squirrels scampering around the paths at the top of the zoo and they were so used to people being around them that they would come right up close. In fact, I had red squirrels eating from my hand, with both their little front paws up on my palm and their little whiskers tickling my hand....so cute! It was just the loveliest experience - but ironic that we were close to all these magnificent, endangered, beautiful animals and I spend most of my time and get the hugest amount of satisfaction from the little squirrels roaming free. Of course, red squirrels are so rare in Britain now that if I did see one as a child, I don't remember it and I certainly haven't seen one as an adult, so I suppose that it is an endangered species as far as Britain is concerned.
We ran out of time to see the Castle so decided to do that the following day. Of course, as part of our wandering around the Castle and the other parts which were open to the public, we managed to go near where we had seen the squirrels the previous day and were lucky enough to have another close encounter with a little red one - not for very long, though. The Castle was, well, a castle, really. Sumptuous rooms, a real sense of history, an insight into how posh people lived and a way to connect people and events.
Sadly, it was then time to go back to pick up our bags and head out to the airport for our flight home. We had left Neil's car at the airport car park and were home by about 11.30 pm, tired but feeling we had really made the most of our time in a beautiful city.
I had surprised both Neil and myself with how much walking I was able to do without the need for a rest - one of the reasons why Neil had booked us into a city centre hotel was so that we could easily go back for a rest if I need one during the day, but in fact I was fine and kept going. Okay, we weren't route-marching, but we didn't dawdle. Once we were home, I was sensible and had a quiet day on Wednesday, although in the evening we went up to London to meet up with some friends for a meal at the Oxford and Cambridge Club , no less! On the Thursday evening, we went to the Christmas show at the Orpheus Centre, where Amy works as a fundraiser. They performed a version of A Christmas Carol, written, composed, designed by the students themselves. The students all have either a physical or learning difficulty and everyone takes part, regardless of whether they can walk or talk. Two students had keyboards which they used to produce synthetic voices. Several were wheelchair users and quite a few had no speech at all. It was an incredibly inclusive show - no singling out of the student who played Scrooge over and above students who had "wheel on", non-speaking parts. It was my first experience directly of the Orpheus Centre and I found it absolutely inspirational. If anyone wants to find out more about the amazing work they do at the Centre, check out www.orpheus.org.uk
Over the last few days, we have had <drum roll> The Return of Adam from Uni....da da daaaaah! He arrived home on Saturday afternoon and clearly hasn't fully embraced student ways, as he didn't bring home any dirty washing and claims he has left his bedroom tidy enough for us to see when we take him back in January - although today he admitted that his friend Hannah had tidied it for him! He's no fool, our son.... Since his return, we are going through three times as much milk and cheese, even though he has been out Saturday and Sunday evenings and has spent every morning in bed until late morning. Luckily his little Corsa is still taxed, insured and has a current MOT so he is able to catch up with his friends that he hasn't seen for months. We waited until Adam came home to get the house ready for Christmas - Neil has got the tree and tomorrow he has the day off work, so he and Adam can get the boxes of decorations down from the loft and we can get the house looking festive. I am finally starting to think that it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas and found myself humming the song today.....sorry, everyone within hearing distance. My voice is not what it was before I had r/t!
I said to Neil tonight that I feel tired, but happy. My joie de vivre has returned - perhaps not in the same quantity as before ( I hope I can say "yet" with some certainty) but it's definitely there. I am much more interested in things than before and can see further ahead when it comes to planning things. I can see a future now, whereas a few months ago I couldn't see past the end of this year. I now have my date for the PET CT scan, which will, we hope, give us the reassurance we need. I feel I can try to set my worries to one side for much of the time, although every now and then I get a niggling sense of anxiety. That's entirely normal and I feel that I have more armoury to cope with the times when I feel like that. In the meantime, I am looking forward to family time at Christmas and being able to celebrate with a glass of fizzy on Christmas Day - something which was in doubt until fairly recently! It's all about celebrating the small successes :-)
If I don't post before Christmas, I wish you all a blessed and peaceful Christmas and remember the true meaning of Christmas: to make sure the champagne fairy visits me!