2016 Christmas Market Adventures

It has been several years since I’ve enjoyed Thanksgiving abroad.  It used to be more of a regular occurrence.  It had been playing around in my head for a while to try and put together a trip for this year and when my friend Nilufer moved to Luxembourg, I decided I really should make this happen!

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Vienna (Christmas market near city hall)

The end of November is still a little early for Christmas markets, however Vienna’s Christmas markets would be open, which is how I ended up in Vienna to start my trip.

After I landed in Vienna, I made my way to the hotel where I met up with Nilufer and we began our explorations.  But first, dessert!  Our hotel (Pension Suzanne) was in a great location, near the Opera and more importantly, near the Sacher Café!!  I had once read a book that took place in Vienna and the characters would often go to the Sacher Café.  When I visited Vienna with Jana, we had several meals at the Sacher Café and discovered their delicious chocolate liqueur.  I happily introduced Nilufer to the Sacher Café.

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The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the various Christmas markets, drinking gluhwein, and eating all the things.  Oh and eggnog!!  I have a rule (self-imposed) that no eggnog is allowed until after Thanksgiving, but since Vienna doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, I think I can break this rule.  Right?

For dinner, we had Weiner Schnitzel (what else are you going to eat in Austria?) at Figlmueller (behind the cathedral) and called it an “early” night since I could barely keep my eyes open.

Sunday morning, we had breakfast at the hotel (typical European breakfast) before making our way to the main train station to catch a train to Bratislava.  We arrived at the Petrzalka station and caught the bus to the old town, driving across the New Bridge (Novy Most) with the giant UFO looking observation deck.  We spent the day wandering around Bratislava Castle, the old town, and the Christmas markets!  We even climbed stairs up to the top of St Michael’s Gate and ate at the oldest restaurant in Bratislava.

We caught the bus back to the train station and the train back to Vienna.  We finished our night with what else but a hot chocolate at the Sacher Café!

Monday was our last day in Vienna and we started off with breakfast at Aida, near the cathedral (a Viennese chain established in 1913).  We had the tower of breakfast!  And it really was a tower!  It barely fit on the table!!

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After breakfast, we caught the tram out to Schonnbrun Palace and meandered the grounds (it was a beautiful day) before exploring their Christmas markets, complete with gluhwein.  We made our way back into town and meandered some more before it was time to make our way to the airport to catch a flight back to Luxembourg.

Nilufer was back at work Tuesday and so I took the train to Metz (in France).  If you are counting, that would be country number 4 (Austria, Slovakia, Luxembourg and now France).  Metz was a charming little town and I happily wandered through their Christmas markets (which were just starting), cobbled streets, and the magnificent cathedral.  It threatened to rain most of the day and even started sprinkling at one point.  When it finally started raining in earnest, I made my way back to Luxembourg where I met up with Nilufer for a delicious Italian dinner!

Wednesday I was on my own again and made my way out to Vianden (in Luxembourg), which involved a train to Ettelbruck and a bus to Vianden.  The bus stop was in the town of Vianden and the castle was at the top of the hill so up I climbed.  Up and up and up.

After touring the castle, I was on my way back down when a sign caught my eye.  It looked like it was pointing to a good view-point.  You know me, I’ll do just about anything for a good view or a good picture and so I started climbing again.  The trail was almost completely covered with leaves, which of course disguises the tree roots and other tripping hazards.  I gingerly climbed up the switchbacks until I got a decent view.  I think I may have gotten a better view if I had continued up, but figured I might be pressing my luck, considering my history of tripping.  And my general clumsiness.  Even if I could climb all the way up, I would still have to make my way down (which might be worse).

I wandered around the town before beginning my journey back.  I explored Luxembourg City a bit until Nilufer was done with work and we ventured to the Christmas markets.

Thanksgiving!  We celebrated by making our way to Echternach (oldest town in Luxembourg, however there is an Echternacherbruck in Germany across the river).

 

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In Germany!  Echternacherbruck

 

We stopped off at the Tourist Info Office which was closed but there was a brochure with a walk around the city.

We had lunch in what looked like a hole in the wall but was highly recommended on yelp.  And they had turkey on the menu!  Of course I had to have the turkey!!

We attempted to explore a nearby castle, only to discover it was closed when we arrived.  So instead we made our way into the Mullerthal (aka Little Switzerland) and did a baby hike out to a beautiful little waterfall (Schiessentümpel).  We made our way back to Luxembourg for dinner at a Spanish restaurant, where we had pumpkin soup to continue the Thanksgiving theme.

Friday morning, it was time for me to leave.  Nilufer dropped me off at the train station and I began my journey to Bremen to visit my friend Mandi.  Mandi and I went to high school together and have a history of meeting up in places not in Seattle.  In fact, she was in Bonn at the same time I was in Bonn (how crazy to think that was 8 years ago!!).  Mandi met me at the train station and she showed me around Bremen’s old town and their Christmas markets where more gluhwein was consumed!  Along with other deliciousness.

Mandi was hosting a Thanksgiving dinner, so Saturday morning she took me on a tour of some absolutely charming houses as we picked up the last few ingredients needed for dinner.  We cooked and decorated and before you knew it, it was time for Thanksgiving dinner.  Dinner was super fun and delicious!  And it was so great to see where Mandi lives and catch up.

My flight home was way too early Sunday morning.  I had opted to pay for economy plus (it was an extra $100 or so) for the extra leg room.  I do have to say for that long of a flight, it was worth it.  I didn’t feel nearly as cramped and I was very happy to be able to stretch my legs out.

And there you have it – what I did over Thanksgiving break.   

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2016 Wine & Dine Half

Last year’s Wine & Dine as an experience to say the least with the delayed start due to storms.  As I crossed the finish line I debated a re-do but was on the fence.  I am not a late night race person.  Well I’m actually not a late night person in general.  Vegas RnR I don’t mind since it starts more in the afternoon.

But a few things happened along the way.  First, it became a morning race!  Yahoo!  I realize that what made Wine & Dine unique was the nighttime aspect, but again, it really wasn’t for me.  And second, my Disney BFF Michelle’s husband Jason wanted to run it (it was his first half).  A chance to hang out with my BFF at Disney?  Yes, please!

As many times as I say I am done with challenges, I found myself signing up for Lumiere’s challenge – it was Lumiere!  I wasn’t too creative with my costumes either – recycling my Belle costume from Paris, and my Daisy costume from last year’s Wine & Dine.  Costume might be too strong of a word.  Its more of a hint of the character, rather than an elaborate costume.

 

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Sparkle Athletic Booth is always a must-do!

 

I won’t bore you too much with details of the 10K course, since it is the same as the Princess course although the end was slightly different, in that we re-entered Epcot by Canada (I think?) before finishing.  And to say I found Abby!  Best part of Disney races are catching up with friends!

 

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Running with Abby is my favorite!

 

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Boardwalk

 

 

I was excited for the half course, as it would be different than Princess.  They did have to modify it due to the construction at Hollywood however.  I met up with Jason and we met Mickey & Minnie while waiting.  I also ran into Kellie!

 

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Almost go time

 

I loved the Animal Kingdom part of the course!  Which sadly was over before you knew it and then it was roads.  But it was different roads!

 

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Obligatory Mile 7 pic

 

They had fun characters out.  I didn’t wait for any as the lines were super long.  Someday I’ll be fast enough to wait in short lines!  I did catch up with Kellie & her crew and ran with them for a bit.

 

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Kellie!!

 

The course caught back up to the Princess course as the sun started to come out.  The last several miles were brutal with the sun.

I found a short character line with Clarabelle & Horace as we were entering Epcot.

 

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And before you know it, I was across the finish line with a new Disney PR of 2:58:42!  Granted, when you only make a few photo stops, it helps with the race time!🙂

 

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My new pretties!

 

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Best race crew!!! 

 

 

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2016 Halloweenathon 10K

In continuing with my pattern of 6 miles followed by a half, I signed up for the 10K portion of the Halloweenathon (they also offered a 5K as well as a 15K option).  It was not super far from my house, and in an area I hadn’t previously been too.  There were options for activities along the course if you so chose to participate.

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Ready to go

The race took place at a golf club with the course following the cart paths.  Once around for the 5K, twice for the 10K and three times for the 15K.  Being on a golf course meant flat with some hills thrown in for fun (there was only one short but steep hill, the rest were more rolling).

Since my training had taken a nose dive, and this was actually a training race, I wasn’t expecting much.  Especially when my iPod broke that morning and I was to have no music, and would be faced with listening to the sounds around me.  (I am not one who can easily run without music – I need the motivation and more importantly, the distraction).

The race started late as they had done the kids run first and there were still kids finishing.  But the announcer did make the comment that they would rearrange the schedule next time to make sure this didn’t happen again.

Because the course was on golf paths, they let us go in waves to help with the congestion.  I forgot to turn on my watch and so ran a little bit longer than normal at the beginning before settling into my intervals.

I finished the first lap and started on the second.  Because I had forgotten to start my watch, I really didn’t have a good sense of where I was time wise.  I was feeling pretty good, however.  Which I was slightly surprised at with the lack of music.  It was definitely a nice change of pace, but probably not something I will do all the time.

The second lap was definitely much less congested.  I worried slightly about being last (even with 15Kers) but the beginning part of the course allowed me to see there were a few people behind me.  It wasn’t before long I began to catch up to the back of the pack 5Kers.

Closer and closer the finish line loomed until I was across!  With a time of 1:15:40!  Which is just off my current PR of 1:14:22.  I think that might be the next PR I focus on breaking!

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2016 Run Like Hell Half

Going into Paris, I knew I had Portland (Half) Marathon and Wine & Dine on the horizon, equating to 3 half marathons in 7 weeks.  But the more important question was how to stay somewhat “trained” without getting completely burned out?  I looked at the calendar and realized I had a week in between Paris & Portland and decided to do approx. 6 miles for my in between week.  There was a bigger break between Portland and Wine & Dine which of course led to decisions.  In the end I decided to keep up the pattern of a half followed by 6 ish miles.  Because I’m crazy.  Yes I admit it.  But with the weather turning, sometimes a race is what I need to keep me motivated.  Which is how I ended up switching my registration from a 10K to the half for the Run Like Hell.

You have to love a race where the description is “the course is mostly uphill until just past mile 3”.  Uh, what have I gotten myself into?  It was the same horrible hills as the Shamrock 15K.  As promised, we literally started on an uphill.  There were a few flats thrown for fun, but it was mostly uphill.  And when I say uphill, I mean UP A GIANT HILL!!!  I struggled to keep my intervals, and cut them to :30/:30 on the steeper portions and watched person after person pass me.  Including the 13:00 minute pacers.  Now, a few months ago I would have expected that as I had lost a lot of speed (for me), but coming off my surprise PR and my fastest Disney race ever, I didn’t expect them to pass me so early.  My thoughts and attitude started turning super negative.  I tried to shut down those thoughts and just concentrate on one foot after the other.  I caught back up to the 13:00 minute pacers right around mile 3.  This was where I expected the course to flatten out.  When it didn’t I about cried.  I had forgotten the description said it would flatten out just past mile 3!  That last stretch of uphill was something else.  Finally I reached the pinnacle and began my descent, catching and passing several runners, some of whom I played leap-frog with for a while before leaving them behind.

In some ways the downhills are worse than the uphills!  I started doubling my running intervals, mainly to take advantage of gravity.  But also because I felt like I needed to catch up on speed.  The time limit for this race was 3:15 – a little too tight for my liking.  I want/need more cushion.  I was worried but yet I wasn’t super worried.

It started to flatten back out between mile 5 and 6 and then we were back on Naito Parkway, very familiar territory.  We were now on the 10K course, sort of.  Down Naito, before turning towards Chinatown and then heading towards the Pearl District.  After leaving Naito, you finally could see finishers on their way back.  So many costumes!!

We continued on into what I would call the more industrial area of Northwest Portland, with a lot of zig zags.  I passed the 10K turnaround sign, but still had to keep going.  Boo!  It was a slight downhill to the half turnaround (and mile 10), which meant a gigantically huge uphill after the turnaround.  (I never EVER exaggerate, ever.)

My favorite part of an out and back course is always after the turn around and seeing that I am not the last person.  Definitely one of the last, but not the last.  I keep trucking along.  I really wanted to stop doing intervals but I knew that was asking for trouble and so kept them up, even if it was hard to differentiate between the walk and the run interval.

The race ended on an uphill.  Seriously?  And to add insult to injury, they were starting to take down the water / snack table after the finish line.  Yes I’m slow, but I finished in plenty of time!  Speaking of time, even with the hills, I finished in 2:48:16!!  I really want to run another sub 2:45 to prove to myself it wasn’t a fluke.  Maybe next time.

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2016 Portland Half Marathon

When I looked at the calendar and realized how close the Disneyland Paris Half was to the Portland Half, I knew it was meant to be!  Plus this was going to be my PR attempt.  However, since I got back from Paris I have been working a lot and there has been little to no training.  And by little I mean, a 6 mile run.  Good thing I had that surprise PR!

With work still being crazy, I took advantage of the host hotel and stayed in downtown.  Not only did that save time on commuting, it let me sleep a bit longer!

The start area was staged with the different waves lining up on different blocks.  My block had a parking garage that was open.  Standing inside (out of the rain) was very welcome.  As it got closer to the start, they walked us from our holding area to the starting line.  It was a very smooth process.  And the race started the opposite way on Broadway, which meant a slight downhill (instead of an uphill)!

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I will say this is not my favorite course if only because the majority of it is an out and back along Naito Parkway and into the more industrial area.  But the out and back also means a lot of friendly faces.  And a pretty flat course.

The rain never let up the entire race.  I mean, its October in the PNW, so the weather is generally a crapshoot.  However, it didn’t pour the entire time!  It would alternate between sprinkling and heavier rain.

Around mile 3ish, I saw someone in front of me wearing a Run 3rd hat (Sean Astin’s organization).  I knew he was running but I thought for sure there was no way he would be back with me.  I passed him on his walk break and snuck a glance.  Oh no, it was Sean Astin!  How cool was that?  We leapfrogged for a mile or so (with our alternating walk breaks) before he left me in the dust.

Speaking of intervals, I was keeping strong intervals until about Mile 11.

My energy was waning but there were more and more spectators lining the streets as the full marathoners rejoined and as we got closer to the finish.

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I finished with a time of 2:50:03, which I felt really good about.  The finishing chute rivaled Vegas RnR in how long it was!  And I liked how instead of a heat sheet, they gave you finishing (throwaway) jackets.

Even better was the short walk to the hotel and a nice hot shower!

Even with this not being my favorite course, I’m signed up for next year!

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2016 Paris

I used to be much better at recapping trips!  Instead of an in-depth and wordy post, how about we do pictures instead?  Because pictures of Paris are my favorite!!

Day 1 – a walk to see my old friend, from a slightly different angle.

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Eiffel Tower

Day 2 – I took a photography walking tour (found on Vayable).  It was great to have a more hands-on, personal photo tutorial.

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Purple!

Day 3 – train ride out to Vernon and bus ride to Giverny (Monet’s house and garden), with a continuing train ride out to Rouen (gorgeous cathedral, beautiful half-timbered houses, and an ASTRONOMICAL clock!  I love clocks!!)

Day 4 – climbed some stairs to visit my gargoyle friends with a visit to the Eiffel Tower at night (for some twinkle lights!).  Some things are better at night!

And there you have it!!  A whirlwind trip to the city of lights!

 

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2016 Paris Disneyland Half

Did I really go to Paris?  Seems so long ago!  I’ll get around to posting pictures, but for now let’s talk about the race!!  Hands down this was my favorite runDisney race to date.  It was well organized, gorgeous course, and amazing volunteers / spectators who cheered for me in French!  Oh, and they had apples at the aid stations!  And the course signs were in kilometers!

After several days, we bid adieu to Paris proper and took an Uber to Paris Disneyland.  While you can easily take a train from Paris, the thought of dragging our suitcases to and from the train station made an Uber worth it (it was approx. 65 euros).

We had originally booked the Santa Fe Hotel, however, a few weeks before the trip I received a call from Disney to upgrade to the New York Hotel.  Why thank you very much.  The New York Hotel was a great location – a few minutes walk from the Disney Village and a few minutes walk to the expo.

Instead of a hand bag check, there was a set-up similar to the airport, walking through a metal detector and putting your bag through a scanner.  It was so much faster!

The expo was on the smaller side and in a tent with horrible ventilation.  It felt like 1,000 degrees!  I was at the expo on the second day and already a lot of the official merchandise was sold out.  Boo.  But I did get my semi-marathon mug!

The start time was 7 a.m. and with the hotel in such close proximity to the start line, I was able to “sleep in” compared to US Disney races.  There were only 4 corrals, but within each corral they only let a few hundred runners go at a time.  I never felt crowded on the course.

The course started at the Disney Village and headed towards Walt Disney Studios.  The cast members were out in force and so enthusiastic!  I was never so glad to have my name on my bib as I heard my name being called in a French accent.  Allez Emily!!

There were several character stops but me being me, I was still a little worried about time and didn’t stop for the first few and then only stopped if the line was short.  I do regret not stopping for Marie from the Aristocats.

Soon we were exiting Walt Disney Studios and heading to Disneyland Paris!!  Running down Main Street was amazing!!  I think this castle is my favorite and seeing it in the distance brought such a huge smile to my face.

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So excited!!

 

Leaving parks behind, we headed out into the French countryside.  I didn’t take any pictures, so you’ll have to take my word for it!

Even though I wasn’t strictly doing Whole30 anymore, I had stuck with raisins as my fuel and I was so excited when I realized the aid stations were stalked with apples!!

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Pommes! 

 

We ran around a lake as we started back towards Disneyland Paris.  We entered the property near the Santa Fe Hotel and ran through the hotels, Disney Village and then the finish line!  Mickey and friends were waiting in their track suits to greet us.

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Kilometers!!  I figured 12K was close to my “normal” 7 mile pic!

 

I knew heading into it this was going to be a fun race, as all my Disney races are, but I am happy to say this was a Disney PR for me!  I finished under 3 hours!!  Barely, but who’s counting?🙂

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