Month: November 2014

Hallstatt Panorama

It’s a place known for its beauty and not by its name. A village in the cliffs whose steepled silhouette is perfectly composed between forested mountains and a shimmering lake. This is Hallstatt, where we headed for a weekend getaway to celebrate our one-year anniversary. I can’t help but sound like a dreamy romantic when I recount my first impressions. The crisp air filling my lungs, the stillness of the Alpine waters, the majesty of the mountains. It probably looked like this hundreds of years ago. I just love when a place leaves you feeling like a blip in time and space, full of wonder and at a loss for words. Located in the Salzkammergut region in Upper Austria, Hallstatt on the Hallstättersee makes for a worthwhile side trip from either Salzburg or Vienna, or as an accompaniment to a sporting vacation in the Dachstein mountains. The village has existed as a salt mining settlement since the Iron Age; you can visit the salt mine, ice caves, and the heritage museum to learn about its …

Pre-Holidays, Inspiration Trumps Isolation

It’s happening. Fall-themed merchandise is now on clearance, making plenty of room on the shelves for Christmas stuff. Some things aren’t so different from America after all. I’m definitely somber about the absence of Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday. Ever since college, the anticipation for Thanksgiving has always paired naturally with the nip in the air, ochre and auburn tones, hearty stews, and a longing for family. But the gaping hole in November on the Austrian calendar is sending me in a tailspin. Without the lockstep cadence of Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas, I’m feeling disoriented. Dear Christmas, hold your horses. Especially because I won’t be with my family in America on Thanksgiving. I know you’re waiting in the wings for your faaaaabulous entrance, and you’ll get it, I promise. I’m just asking for some time to defend myself against an inevitable bout of homesickness. Thanks. If you’ve ever been away from your loved ones during the holidays, you know how much the distance strengthens your love and connection to them, and how acutely it intensifies the loneliness and the guilt. …

A Fall Harvest of…Kiwi?

One of the best aspects of living in the countryside is the abundance of fruits and vegetables grown in our very own backyard, thanks to Schwiegermom’s green thumb and loving attention. You name it, she’s growing it—leeks, lettuce, carrots, peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, celery as well as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, grapes, plus plenty of herbs and a whole lot more. Some plants, on the other hand, received less attention as was the curious case of the fuzzy kiwi vines that crawled up our cherry tree. You might be as bewildered as I am, and understandably so. Apparently kiwis thrive in a temperate climate and, with the help of shade and a sturdy trellis, they yield plenty of fruit after a few years. So goes the romantic story of our cherry tree and the kiwi vine. A few weekends ago, Juergen and his father spent an afternoon trimming the cherry tree of its scraggly branches, bringing down a whole bunch of kiwis in the process. Kiwi vines can get pretty gnarly without proper pruning, and because they …

Soaring

This photo is a few years old, but it’s still so captivating. On my first trip to Austria, Juergen took me out on hot air balloon ride over Apfelland (apple country) in Styria. Infinite green, speckles of red roofs and the occasional glimmer from small lake. At six in the morning, the sun was just beginning to stir. From this angle, the beauty was simply deafening.

Hiking the Kaskögerlweg

Autumn has definitely arrived in this part of the world, and it’s the perfect time of year to be outdoors. Juergen and I recently spent a gorgeous afternoon hiking the Kaskögerlweg, an 11 km trail in Styria’s Vulkanland just east the village of Poppendorf. It was a family outing that included his parents, uncle, cousin, her partner, and their darling one-year-old who enjoyed the hike from the luxury of his stroller. The young family only intended to walk a small portion, but in true Austrian fashion (i.e. the daytime version of “I’ll stay for one beer”), time was forgotten among good company and they stayed with us the entire way. The three-hour trail was not strenuous but considering some narrow climbs and a few slippery footbridges, it wasn’t exactly stroller friendly. We must’ve looked like a caravan of pioneers heading west with our little wagon. Through woods, fields, and vineyards, I noted the abundance of green that was still holding on. In the last few kilometers, we climbed uphill through rows of apple trees on …

Allerheiligen Striezel – All Saints’ Bread

This past Saturday, Catholic Austrians celebrated the Feast of Allerheiligen (All Saints’ Day) by honoring their deceased loved ones and paying their respects at the Friedhof (cemetery). Although I didn’t go to the cemetery myself, I was gifted a luscious loaf of Allerheiligen Striezel. I’d actually just learned about this bread from one of my students, a 60-year old mechanic who was eager to show me photos of the 10 loaves that he baked himself (yes, 10!). Sure enough, my mother-in-law’s version of the pastry made its way to our kitchen for the occasion. Allerheiligen striezel is a braided bread made from flour, yeast, eggs, butter, sugar, salt, and raisins, enjoyed with jam and coffee or tea. My sister-in-law told me about her tradition of bringing the bread to her godparents every year on Allerheiligen. In other families, the godparents bake it for their godchildren. When I was a teacher in New York, I used to do a cultural lesson on Mexico’s Día de los Muertos every year at this time. When possible, I would …