new sister. old brother.
I got a new sister this past January. No, my mother didn’t have another child. Horrid thought… No, my little brother got married and hence, a sister-in-law.
Megan Nicole LaBoe-Birkhold. And guess what her birthday is? July 8th. Same as mine. Born to be sisters.
My sister Erica and I were bridesmaids. Some of the photos I think turned out really nice.
My brother was so handsome and so happy. I’m thrilled for him. He also just got into grad school at George Washington University. Handsome AND smart. Megan did well!
All the aunts and uncles were there, including Uncle Steve from Seattle. Not all the cousins could make it, Stephanie was far too pregnant and Alexander couldn’t fly in. The little girls had school. But the rest of the clan was there. Aunt Julia and Uncle Don were the longest married couple in the building with our next door neighbors, Dave and Audrey Maskill (left) right behind them. Almost 50 years both!
Uncle Tom and Kathy cut a rug.
We danced, we drank we made merry. Joe’s friend Jonah, part of the wedding party, was a little stiff. I took him out on the floor and had him loosen up a bit. Not 100-percent sure it worked…
The bride and groom missed brunch the next morning… But my dad and his brothers were there in force.
Could they look any more alike?
Back to Europe – AUSTRIA.
Before 2011, I had been to Europe once. I decided to ramp it up a bit this year, as you can tell.
So this April, it was back to Europe with Fischer Skis and a crew of shop owners and media personnel. I had never skied in the Alps and I was beyond excited.
We flew into Munich and made our way to Ried, Austria where the Fischer factory and headquarters is. Ried is a cute little town full of authentic looking buildings and establishments.
We went to one restaurant, the Keller Brau, that was established in 1446. They had steins the size of your head, or larger. No joke. Ben LOVED the stein. So much so, he put it through the glass door of the bar and was consequently chased by the cops. Good times.
At the factory, we got a glimpse of the 2012-2013 boot and ski line. They asked for feedback, gave it and they listened! Be prepared for significant step up in the Fischer women’s line next year!
We got to tour the factory and even PRESS OUR OWN SKIS. Yup. That’s my ski. It’s a prototype. Watea 110. It’s a 186, though, so it might go to Gregg. I signed the wood, then layered the top sheet. Pretty cool.
The factory is incredibly clean. It’s 100-percent sustainable. All scraps — wood, metal, etc… — goes back into powering the machines. It’s spotless and full of hard-working Austrians as well as sheets upon sheets of titanal, metal edges, sidewalls and layers of wood.
After waving goodbye to the Fischer brass, we loaded up the bus, departed Ried and made our way three hours south to the resort town of Obertauern, Austria. Europe didn’t have a great snow year, but we lucked out and got 20 cm the night we got there and woke up to it still snowing. No one in Europe skis off piste, they’re far too concerned with carving their super sweet, skinny race skis. We got deep snow and no lift lines. It was a great couple of days.
Obertauern is so classic looking. It’s exactly what you would picture when envisioning a European ski town. Perfect right down to the old man in a ski sweater shoveling the deck of the lodge under the chairlift.
Did I mention yet how much amazing cheese there is in Austira? Well, there is. I was in heaven.
I snapped this outside my house the other night. I love the neon sign.
The iphone takes great pics.
Euro Trip – Part Two – RUSSIA.
On Gregg and I’s first solo date (the first included Ms. Hendricks and Mr. Murray, so that doesn’t really count) last October, we were browsing my Freeskier profile on my phone. In the about me it reads “I hope one day to travel to India and Russia. I suspect the food will be better in India and the vodka better in Russia.”
Gregg saw this, turned to me and said, “Do you really want to go to Russia?” I explained to him I had made this profile five years ago and those are the two places I have always wanted to visit. Russia ever since my grandmother brought me home a Matrishka doll from her trip there over twenty years ago and India once I discovered my love of Indian food at the Bombay Cuisine restaurant in Grand Rapids I used to frequent with Sam.
His next question: “Do you want to go to Russia with me in January or February?”
Little did I think a mere four months later we would be getting on a plane together in Amsterdam with our boarding passes reading St. Petersburg.
A little explanation: Gregg’s company, encoding.com, employs a team of developers in St. Petersburg and Gregg travels there about three times a year to meet with them and keep the working relationship in tact. So his asking me to accompany him to Russia was not a complete out-of-the-blue whim. After an intensive visa application process, we were set to journey to Mother Russia after our quick pit stop in Amsterdam.
My first impression? Cold. Blindingly cold. Dark. Harsh. And while this first impression would hold somewhat, other impressions made their way into my opinion as the week wore on. Beautiful. Strong. Historic. Changing. Remembered.
Russia is a country full of progressing social and class structure as well as in the throes of experiencing a change in government structure. The middle class, long non-existent, is slowly emerging and this is reflected in the social landscape. Russians of my generation are experiencing autonomy and work opportunities their parents and grandparents never knew under the iron curtain and they are forming a growing middle class. In places, this void between the haves and have nots is still apparent, but the gap is closing. The beauty of the architecture in the city where politicians and the wealthy once lived is in sharp contrast to the projects-like buildings on the outskirts where many families had no choice but to reside under communist rule. While the lines are becoming more blurred, the different structures stand in reminder of the stringent disparities that were torn down not so long ago with the dissolution of the communist regime.
While most Russians, I imagine, are pleased with the changes, Russian culture still holds to its history and this can be seen in the many museums and landmarks throughout the city.
One of the most famous museums in the world, The Hermitage, is located in the heart of St. Petersburg. Our first day in the city, Gregg went to the office and I headed to the Hermitage where I got lost in the beautiful art for hours.
Matisse. VanGogh. Monet. Derain. Picasso. Kandinsky. Manet. Names of just a FEW of the historically important artists on display at the Hermitage. But it’s not just the exhibits that impress, but the building and interior decor of the museum itself. Gilded rooms and intricate stone work and masonry are on display in nearly every room. The museum is comprised of six buildings and boasts 418,230 square feet. The Hermitage has the largest collection of paintings in the world and over 3 million items in total. It is one of the largest and oldest museums in operation, founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great of Russia.
One of my favorites was Henri Edmond Cross’ View of the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli near Assisi. He was a French pointillist and pupil of Claude Monet. My favorite artist of all time. Note the intricate brush work.
I know I only saw a small portion of what the museum has to offer, but I felt like I saw so much.
One of the other magnificent landmarks in St. Petersburg is The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. It was built on the land where Tsar Nicholas II was assassinated in 1881. The Church contains over 7500 square meter of mosaics, more than any other church in the world.
I would be remiss if I did not give a quick mention to our hotel in St. Petersburg. A museum in and of itself. The Taleon Imperial Hotel was built in the 18th century as a residence for Elisabeth, daughter of Tsar Peter the Great. It passed through many hands, both private and public, and was eventually opened as a hotel in 2003. It is the epitome of luxury. From the spa to the suites to the paintings covering the walls, staying at the Taleon made me feel like a princess.
Furthering my princess fantasy… the thing I was the most excited about in Russia was going to the Mariinsky Theater and seeing the famous ballet company. We were able to catch a performance of Cinderella. It was incredible. Breathtaking, even. The theater itself is beautiful. And the performance was even more so. The step mother, in particular, was fabulous.
After the ballet, we went to what was the nicest restaurant I have ever been to. We were served with white gloves and it was fairy tale perfect.
Now, to finish up the trip, we went to the Russian Circus. I had been told by Olga at the retirement home that I HAD to see a Russian Circus. AS it happened, the biggest circus in the country, the Moscow troupe, was in St. Petersburg while we were there. Yuiry, Gregg’s lead developer, and his wife Natasha (both of whom were amazing tour guides the entire time we were there) came with us. The lions, tigers, acrobats and trapeeze artists were second to none. But the real highlight was petting a real live bear and taking this amazing photo with Gregg.
Makes me laugh every time I look at it.