Friday, December 31, 2010

God Jul (Merry Christmas) og Godt Nytt Ar (And A Happy New Year)

 Here is my second attempt at the blog (my attempt meaning Gino). I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. In this blog entry, I want to share with you how we celebrated our Christmas in Norway along with a few other updates.

Once again, we celebrated Christmas away from our families. It's been 4 years for me and 3 for Laura, since we have been with our families for Christmas. We have made it a tradition to listen to the Christmas song "I'll Be Home For Christmas, If Only in My Dreams" while sobbing uncontrollably and feeling sorry for ourselves....Not really but we do miss our families alot this time of year. This year, for the first time, we were able to see them on skype. So, that made it much better. On Christmas Eve, we got together with the other North American couples and we ate a big spread of appetizers, drank beer and wine, and played Farkel (aka 10,000) for hours. Laura made a great shrimp and cream cheese croissant roll appetizer. I think I had 10 of them and had to loosen the belt buckle by the end of the night. It was great to be able to spend it with our adopted family.

You read all about our trip to Paris which was amazing. It is so great to see how much people in every city really get into the Christmas Spirit. Every city has their own Christmas market filled with lots of food and shops. I was talking to Laura about how excited the children must get in Europe for Christmas. It's basically like having a carnival for a month leading up to Christmas.

In Norway, a lot of different foods/beverages have special holiday editions. The word for Christmas in Norway is Jul. It is pronounced YOOL. So, for instance there is a holiday brew of coffee called the Julekaffe.

There are a variety of beers that have holiday brews too. These are called Juleol. Ol is the Norwegian word for beer.  I tried all 5 different brands of Juleol.(I was really into the Christmas "spirits" if you know what I mean)..Just in case you didn't get that joke it was a play on words.

 On Christmas day, we ate Julepolse, which is Christmas sausage, and had potatoes, gravy and red cabbage. All considered traditional Christmas food.  But my favorite Christmas item they make here is the Julebrus which is Christmas soda. Different cities and regions of Norway all have their own Julebrus. There is a competition every year to see which one is the best. The one sold here is made by the Lillehammer/Hamar brewery and tastes a lot like cream soda but probably a little bit better. Coca Cola also makes their own, but isn't nearly as good.

Lillehammer JuleBrus

On the hockey front, things have been going very well for our team. We won yesterday against our biggest rival, Hamar, in overtime. We had a packed arena with almost 3000 fans. Every time we play Hamar, its crazy. The two cities are very competitive with one another in all sports. Hamar is a little larger than Lillehammer and about a 45 minute drive away. Lillehammer translated into English means "Little Hammer." The team from is Hamar, but instead of being called Hamar they call themselves StorHamar, which translates to "Large Hammer." So, you can get an idea of how the rivalry goes. Also, the management and guys who have been playing in Lillehammer awhile seem to have a lot of added intensity and focus. But, before that game we had 15 days between games, which was a great mental and physical break for me. Our team was on quite the roll before the break winning 8 of 9 games. Hopefully, we will continue that way after our Christmas break. 

Tonight we are going to celebrate New Years with our same crew from Christmas Eve. The ladies are going to be making us sushi, while we drink our Juleol and try to find a bowl game to watch on the slingbox. That will probably be followed by playing farkel, as everyone is now addicted to it after playing on Christmas Eve. We have practice at 10am in the morning, so we won't be partying into the night. Probably be up till 12:15....Wow I am starting to sound old.

Once again I hope everyone had a great Christmas and someday we will once again be part of a Minnesota Christmas. But, for now we are having the experience of a lifetime. 2010 was a very exciting year for us and we are can't wait to see what 2011 and beyond will bring us. I am sure many good times and laughs with all of you.
Happy New Year

Friday, December 24, 2010

Holiday in Paris!

FYI: May want to schedule about 10 minutes to read this one:)

Out of all the cities in the world, Paris was by far the city at the top of our list to visit.  Those of you who have or haven't been to Paris will probably agree that it's one of those "bucket list" cities to visit before you die.  So, you can imagine how lucky and excited we felt that we were going to expierence the "city of lights"!  With one of the most well known monuments in the world, culture, fashion, food, architecture, history, museums etc, Gino and I were jumping out of our skin when we decided that's where we wanted to go during his Christmas break.

 We researched and booked the trip about a month before, once we knew what days Gino would have off from pracitce and games.   Roundtrip tickets from Oslo were about $800 for the both of us combined which wasn't bad but we decided to see what a one way on Norwegian Air would cost and then a return one way on Ryan Air (budget airline)...It ended up being about $550 cheaper!!!  So roundtrip from Oslo to Paris for the two of us was only $270 bucks.  Ryan Air airports are very small and are sometimes located about 45 miles outside of a major city, which can be a little inconvenient to get to but the prices are well worth it.  You can get some roundtrip tickets for one person for as cheap as $20 Euro...if not less!

We had the team Christmas party on Friday night and our train left for the Oslo airport at 4:15 am on Saturday morning.  I think we slept for about 3 hours but were suprisingly awake when the alarm went off.  One little side note about the Christmas party.  It was at the Radisson hotel near our apartments, which is probably the largest hotel in Lillehammer.  We didn't really have too high of expectations for the food, etc.  Most of the guys on the team weren't even going to bring their significant others.  But when we showed up, all the guys were dressed in suits!   Not a huge deal, we all dressed up nicely too and the food spread was incredible!  There were 3 buffet tables full of traditional Norwegian Christmas food with sausage, lamb, crab legs, cheeses, potatoes, gravy, red cabbage, saurkraut, etc.  Gino and I liked it so much we decided we're going to have a Norwegian Christmas meal on Christmas Day.  After dinner, Gino had to give a speech (its tradition for the captain to give a speech about the year).  He didn't know he had to do it until about 20 min before but did great!  He pulled together a little speech about the words he has learned to say in Norwegian (which he got a few laughs for)  and about how much he's liking the team/city and the potential they have for doing very well in playoffs.  I was proud! For all you hockey fans, here is a nice little article that was written about Gino and the team.  Here is the English version,  some of the words still don't translate correctly...but you get the gist.  It talks about Gino being the last import to sign with Lillehammer and he's proving to be the right choice for the team and the leading scorer in all of Norway. Again...very proud! Believe me, this is well deserved and hasn't been acomplished without ALOT of hard work, sacrifice, and a few bumps in the road, but the season isn't over yet.  It's just nice to see him playing at the top of his game again.

Day 1:
Ok, back to Paris!  So we hopped on our 4:15am train to Oslo for a 7:55am flight.  The travel went very smooth and soon enough we were in Paris.  We bought a 3 day Metro pass in the Paris airport which we weren't sure how much we were actually going to use the subway so almost didn't buy it.  They were about 30 Euro per person.  Honestly, the best decision we made was to buy the passes.  We were on that subway at least 7 times a day and it made it so easy to just take out your pass, scan it, and jump on the subway instead of buying a new ticket everytime you had to ride.  After grabbing a metro map of all the lines in Paris, we found that it was a pretty slick system and relatively easy to follow.  It took us about 20 min to get to our hotel from the airport.  We debated about staying in a rental by owner type place but ended up finding our best bet booking a hotel through Pick Your Own Price.  We could choose our location, price, star, etc and just cross our fingers!  We ended up staying about a 15-20 min walk from the Eiffel Tower in a 3 star hotel for about $85/night.  NOT BAD AT ALL! You could even see the tip of the Eiffel Tower from our window!

After we checked into our hotel, we went to go grab some lunch.  We ended up stopping at a little pizza restaurant near our hotel.  We asked the waiter what he liked best on the menu and he picked out one of the pizza's.  We couldn't really tell what was on it but ordered it anyways.  It came with ham, a couple different kinds of cheese, and a fried egg! A little different, but so good.  I noticed a few days later that they use egg in alot of their dishes.  After lunch we started our walk to the Eiffel Tower.  That was our top priotity on the first day.  As we started turning corners we could see it!  It felt like we were seeing a celebrity or something, we got really excited and were walking so fast we might as well been running!

We can see it!!
Getting closer!!

It might sound corny but seeing the Eiffel Tower fufilled so many dreams for me! Not that this is even comparable to the real thing, but we got engaged at the Eiffel Tower in Vegas and seeing the original in person was unbelieveable!  After seeing the Eiffel Tower my trip would have been complete....but we had so much more to see!  The next 2 days were CRAZY.  We must have walked about 6 miles a day and were out of our hotel room from 9am-10pm each night.  Paris is definitely not a relaxing type of vacation....but honestly, if it's your first time visiting Europe, no trip is! You want to soak up as much culture as you possibly can. 

We proceeded to take about a million pictures of us by the tower and walked around it for an hour or so.  On the other side of it is the Seine River and across from that was one of the 5 Paris Christmas markets.  We walked over the bridge to the Christmas market and got ourselves a glass of Vin Chaud (hot spiced wine), they seem to have it served in every European country around Christmas time.  There was a subway station just on the other side of the Christmas market and by this time is was about 4pm so we decided to jump on the subway to Champs Elysees to see the Arc de Triomphe before it got too dark for pictures. 

Christmas market on the Seine River
Arc de Triomphe ALMOST as amazing to see as the Eiffel Tower

The Arc was much larger than I thought it would be.  The picture that I have posted above was what we saw immediately after we walked up the subway stairs.  I think I literally took this picture at the top of the stairs.  Champs Elysees was a really cool street with shops on both sides going for about a half mile to a mile.  On one end was the Arc and on the other was the largest Christmas market. 
By this time, we were getting hungry so we decided to head back to hotel and find a restaurant for dinner.  We ended up eating at a cute little sushi restaurant near our hotel.  I know, pizza then sushi, where is the French food!  We were just happy to be able to eat for a decent price it didn't even matter what the food was.  But we did get our fill of crepes. 

Day 2:

We wanted to wake up early to start the day, we had so much to see! We had planned on going to the top of the Eiffel Tower, taking a river cruise, etc but the weather was not so great.  It was snowing and raining a bit so we decided to go to the Louvre instead.  What I forgot to mention is that on the 1st night the bottom of one of my boots broke so my feet were getting soaked!  Before doing anything on the second day we had to go find a shoe store that was open on a Sunday...not easy.  I put plastic bags over my feet and shoved them into my broken boots and we started our search for a shoe store.  The first 2 places we saw near our hotel were closed but the 3rd store was suprisingly open!  I walked in found a pair of rain boots that were the cheapest (55 Euro $74)  and we ran out.  We took the subway a few stops to the Louvre and grabbed some brunch at a little restaurant outside. 
This was our first "real" French meal we had since we stepped foot in Paris and it was incredible! A mushroom, ham and cheese crepe (thin pancake), egg cheese ham sandwhich, coffee, and french fries of course.  Great meal, the waiters spoke English and were very kind so that made the experience even better.  After lunch we went to the Louvre.  We had read on a website to use the mall side entrance to the Louvre to avoid long lines.  It was right! We didn't have to wait in a line at all.  Once we were inside we waited for about 5 min to get our tickets from a machine (about $12).  The only way to describe the Louvre is MASSIVE.  I've never seen a museum like it.  The building used to be a palace for Phillip II built in the 12th century.

Walking through the Louvre

They say it would take 2 weeks 24hrs a day to see absolutely everything in the Louvre...that wasn't happening so we made a little list of about 10 things we really wanted to see.  With everything else Paris has to offer, we were only able to stay in the Louvre for about 2 hours.  We both love museums but that was about all we could handle and enough time for us to see what we wanted to see. While there was so many beautiful pieces, I think the most well known piece of art in the Louvre would be Da Vinci's Mona Lisa.

The Louvre was spectacular and I would definitely recommend it to anyone visiting Paris.  It was worth seeing and one of our favorites.  After the Louvre we decided to make our way over to Notre Dame located basically in the Latin Quarter of Paris. 
Crossing the Seine River over to Notre Dame
We waited in a short line to get in and tour around.  It was free to enter.  The inside was beautiful and the pictures just don't do it justice.  The cathedral was built in 1163! Amazing.

We walked around the to the back which was even more intricate and gothic. The river view picture has to be my favorite.

We walked across the river to the Latin Quarter to do a little exploring and found that we love that area of Paris!  If we ever went back, we would stay in the Latin Quarter.  It was so quaint with tiny cobble stone streets, tall old buildings, little cafe's, exactly what you picture a European city to look like.  We stopped at a Gyro stand for a snack.  We both agree that it was the best Gyro we have ever had! Maybe its because we are in Paris, but all of your senses are enhanced and everything seems that much better.

Another one of the couples that live and play for the Lillehammer team were traveling in Paris at the same time so we met up with them at the Eiffel Tower for some photos and to check out the Christmas market.

Scott & Gino holding up the tower, looks heavy
Kyla and I holding up the tower with our pinky's...looks light!

The Christmas market was so pretty all lie up and was busy with people ice skating, eating, drinking, singing, etc.  We had a cup of vin chaud and a sausage baguette and enjoyed the scenery!

Day 3:
The weather on our last day seemed a little clearer which was good because we had a big day planned.  We decided to head north and see the Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart Basillica), a Roman Catholic church which was started in 1875 and completed in 1914.  It is located on the top of a hill which just so happens to be the highest point in the city and is supposed to have beautiful views.  When we got off the subway we noticed all the snow!!  We had to walk a few blocks to the stairs where we walked up the hill to the Basillica. 

Once we got to the top we saw the Sacre was beautiful in the snow! Much larger than I had anticipated.  We weren't allowed to take pictures inside but it was gorgeous and we may have liked it a little more than the Notre Dame.

Unfortunately, the view wasn't what we thought it was going to be due to the unexpected snow.  When we were leaving the Basillica you could see a faint outline of the Eiffel Tower.  

The Moulin Rouge was also on our list and was only a few blocks from the Sacre Coeur.  We walked through a little village square in the Montmarte area of Paris where we decided to eat before finding the Moulin Rouge.  It was such a cute area!  Alot of artists were sitting in the park area painting the dome of the Sacre Coeur.  You really felt like you were in Paris!

We decided to stop for breakfast/lunch of crepes and coffee!  On the desert crepes they put a sweet chocolate called Nutella that tastes delicious! I've seen it in the grocery stores in Norway but people there put it on there toast or lefse.  We walked a few more blocks through the little residential side streets and came across what we thought was the Moulin Rouge...

The sign said Moulin Rouge and people were on all sides of the street taking photos.  We were a little disappointed.  We kept walking until we reached a busy square where we ended up seeing the real Moulin Rouge. HA

Much better!  But not our favorite stop on the trip.  Unless you're going to see a show, I wouldn't recommend taking the time to find it.  But what we saw across the street was worth the walk!!

They only have Starbucks in major cities and most coffee shops serve very small cups of coffee or cappuccino so it was nice to finally have an "american" sized Chai Latte, yum!

After the Starbucks we decided to jump on the subway back down to climb the Eiffel Tower.  When we got to the base of the tower there was of course a long line that we were happy to wait in.  After about 30 min we noticed that the line had stopped and heard that the elevators shut down and they weren't letting people go to the top because of the wind.  So we opted to hop out of line and take the Seine River cruise instead.  We saw on many websites that people had recommended doing the boat cruise and it was a good way of seeing the city.  I'm glad we did it! It was a great time to warm up, sit down for an hour and get a guided tour.

From the river we were able to see the Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, the most expensive area to live in Paris, many old historic buildings, the bridge that Princess Diana crashed on (which now has a memorial for her), we drove under bridges that were created as gifts for past Kings, etc.  It was great!
On one of the bridges we saw all these creepy looking faces.  One of the previous Kings had this bridge created with the faces of his many advisors.  Another bridge we went under was built with beautiful gold decals.

The tour ended back at the base of the Eiffel Tower.  Can't get enough of these pictures!

The last place we wanted to see on our trip was the Luxembourg Gardens.  We knew that they wouldn't look as good as they could in the Spring or Summer but wanted to check them out anyways.  I was suprised to see there were flowers blooming!  The Luxembourg Gardens are in the backyard of the Luxembourg Palace which was built by the wife of Henry IV in 1611.  The gardens looked like a huge field with fountains to us...but would be blooming with flowers and plants in the Spring.

We made one final stop before heading back to the Latin Quarter for our last dinner.  That was back to the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomph for one more picture.

We loved Paris!  I don't know how many times we both said that our friends and family have to visit Paris!  It's a magical city and I can see why people fall in love with it.  I hope someday we can go back but for now we have amazing memories.  We hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  Je'Taime!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Amo I'Italia!!!

"Don't put off living to next week, next month, next year or next decade. 
The only time you're ever living is in the moment"

Last Thursday I left Lillehammer for a 4 day long weekend in Italy!  Italy was on the top of my "must see" lists so I was thrilled to have the chance to go this year.  There are five of us girlfriends/wives that are living overseas for the hockey season, who are all from Minnesota. All of our men played for the Gophers together, and we are living over seas in different countries.  Fallon (Mike Vanelli's fiance) lives in Stavanger Norway, Emma (Matt Demarchi's girlfriend) lives in Asiago Italy, Katie (Andy Sertich's wife) lives in Zagreb Croatia, and Katy (Danny Irmen's wife) lives in Bolzano Italy.  We chatted a few months ago about how cool it would be to meet somewhere for a girl's trip. We stayed in Bolzano with Katy and Danny and traveled  to Merano (a short drive from Bolzano) and to Venice (about a 3 hour drive from Bolzano).

I met up with Fallon in Munich, Germany on Thursday afternoon at around 2:30pm.  The plan was to meet Fallon outside of my gate and jump on the 2:50ish train to Bolzano which didn't give me much time to get off the plane and find Fallon but we thought we could do it so she bought the tickets. plane arrived about 10 min early which was great but instead of dropping us off at a gate we stopped in the middle of the runway and took a bus to the airport.  We were dropped off at the baggage claim instead of a I had no idea where I was supposed to meet Fallon!  We had borrowed a cell phone from one of the Swedish guys on the team and I thought I had programmed her phone number correctly but forgot to add the country code so the call wouldn't go through!!! By this time I was sweating and on the verge of tears contemplating if I should just jump on a plane back to Norway.  I found someone that looked like they worked in the airport and tried to see if they could help me make a call but he couldn't speak English, so I started roaming around. 

About 25 min later, I found the exit door.  When I walked through there was Fallon!  I ran up, hugged her, and asked if we missed the train...we did.  Before coming over to Europe, I had thought that train tickets were pretty cheap and also traveling throughout Europe.  Not as cheap as I thought!  The travel part is the most expensive (cabs, trains, flights).  So missing that train put us out about $150.  This story is getting a little long so I'll some up the rest of the travel.  After missing the train, we jumped into a cab to take us to another train station about 40 min away to hopefully make the 2nd leg of our trip.  After paying the cab driver 60 Euro ($85) and walking into the train station we found out he had dropped us off at the wrong station!  Fortunately, we were able to grab another train to Bolzano, but it didn't leave until 5:30pm.  So we had almost 2 hours in the train station.  We were more than ready for a big glass of Vino!

Fallon relaxing after a long day of travel...which was not yet over

After our vino break, we needed some dinner before jumping on the train.  Instead of grabbing a sandwhich or a piece of pizza we decided to go into the train station grocery store to see what we could find.  We ended up with a loaf of bakery bread, a brick of what looked to be wonderful italian cheese, deli salami, and a jar of 4 cheese pasta sauce.  It was delicious!!!!  We ate all the way to Bolzano.

Enough said...
I wasn't able to see the scenery much when we arrived in Bolzano because one, it was dark (10pm) and two, it was snowing!!!  I was suprised to see so much snow in Italy.  It was in the high 30's-low 40's while we were there, so it was pretty comfortable to walk around outside.  The next morning I was able to see how beautiful the land around Katy and Danny's house was.  They are surrounded by mountains and vineyards.  I can't imagine how gorgeous it would be in the Summer or Fall.
Driving through the "neighborhood"

View from their patio!
 It was a beautiful day so we decided to take a ride to Merano (about 20 min from Bolzano).  The town is really cute, built on a river and they had a Christmas Market that we wanted to check out.  We strolled around, did a little shopping, and enjoyed the Christmas spirit surrounding us!

I had to take a picture of the ladies taking pictures, tourists!
Walking down a decorated side street
After walking around a bit, we decided to sit down for a coffee (this took place mulitiple times a day).  We stopped in a cozy cafe and ordered expressos and cappuccinos and warmed up a bit before heading to dinner.
The girls!
 (from left to right: Emma, Jill, Chantel, Karla, Fallon, Katy, Me, Katie)

After coffee we went out on our search for some good Italian cuisine.  We stopped at a little restaurant down a side street that had pasta and pizza...perfect!  It was so strange to see the prices on the menu compared to Norway.  I could get a drink and a pasta or pizza for $10 instead of $40!  We all got a mixture of pasta and pizza.  I think everyone really enjoyed their food.  One of the differences between Norway and Italy that I noticed was when ordering food or talking to anyone Italian, you have to TRY and speak Italian to them even if it comes out wrong.  They like if you at least try...otherwise they pretend they can't understand you, when they really can.  In Norway, if you say "English?" they will automatically start speaking English happily.  In Italy...not so much.  They were pretty rude about it.  I guess I can understand that.

That night a few of the girls decided to go into downtown Bolzano to check out their Christmas market.  It was beautiful!  Much larger than Merano.  Tents were set up all over the place selling Gluvine, sausage, pastries, etc.  For those of you who don't know what Gluvine is it's a hot spiced wine.  You can get it in white or red wine.  I thought it was very good!  Some people think its a little strong.  The Gluvine was served in Bolzano Christmas mugs.  They design a new mug each year for Christmas and you pay an extra 2 Euro for the mug or you can return it and get your 2 Euro back. 
The center of the Christmas market, so pretty!

We had planned on going to Venice on Saturday but found out that the city was flooded, which apparently happens often, so instead we went and explored Bolzano in the daytime. The weather was great and there were a ton of people strolling around the city. 

On Sunday we left for our 2 1/2 hour drive to Venice.  It was a little overcast but the city wasn't under water so we were going! At this point a couple of the girls had left to head back to there own cities so there were only 5 of us.  The entire drive from Bolzano to Venice is all highway and we had a GPS which made it very easy.  We had left a little later than we had wanted (I forgot to put my contacts in, who does that!!!....Fallon forgot her camera, and the car didn't have any gas).  We got to Venice around 2pm, parked our car in a ramp and took a tram over to the city. Venice looks just like it does in movies and in pictures.  I felt like I was on a set of a movie the entire time. Narrow sidestreets, little waterside cafe's, gondolas, cobblestone, etc.  With the holidays approaching, the city was full of Christmas decorations and lights.  It was great!
Standing on one of the many bridges

For those of you that don't know, Venice is basically built on water so you don't see cars or taxis driving around.  Instead you take water taxis which are big boats that take people around the city.  I think we paid about 6 Euro to get to the other side of the city and you were able to use that ticket for up to an hour.  They have gondolas to ride but those are REALLY expensive.  The guy we asked said he charged 40-60 Euro per person!  We didn't end up taking the gondolas, but I took a picture.  You can also see the water taxi in the background.

We only had about 3 hours of day light left when we arrived in Venice but I'm happy we got to see the city at night. All the Christmas lights came on and the cafe's and restaurants were alive!

We stopped for some wine and cheese at a little restaurant down one of the million side alley's and relaxed a bit.  It felt so surreal to be sitting in Venice, Italy with a bunch of girlfriends drinking wine!  Venice was beautiful in the winter but I would love to see it in the summer months and hopefully with Gino next time.  Everyone has to visit Italy at some point in there life.  It was probably the country that felt the most "European" since I've been here.  Or at least what I have always thought Europe would feel like. 
Fallon and I had to leave the next morning for the airport in Munich so we left Venice at about 8pm for our drive home.  The trip was awesome!  I'm so happy I was able to meet up with all the girls. 
We will always have Italia!