All posts filed under: Life in Austria

Austrian Christmas 101

On the twelfth day of Christmas, I thought I’d share some snippets of my holiday with you, since many people have asked about the local customs and how I experienced it for the first time. At Christmas time, the city of Graz and its surrounding villages were oozing with charm. Throughout the month of December, it was a delight to witness the transformation of town squares, storefronts, and living rooms to reflect the merriment of the season. I found the atmosphere no more beautiful than Manhattan’s 5th Avenue window displays or the glowing suburban neighborhoods of my Christmases past. But this year, the wonder came not from sparkle and lights but from long standing traditions and a personal touch that is evident in all things Austrian. The Season of Advent Austrians observe the season of Advent, the period of anticipation and reflection beginning four weeks before Christmas (Weihnachten). Many families display an Advent wreath (Adventkranz) with four candles, each one ignited on the Sundays leading up to Christmas. To count the days until Christmas, our …

First Thanksgiving & a slice of humble pie

I hadn’t intended to do a full-blown Thanksgiving with my Austrian in-laws for fear that it wouldn’t feel the same. Thanksgiving Thursday was an ordinary workday, and our celebration would have to take place on Saturday. At that point, I figured it would be like any other Saturday when the family eats lunch together because that’s what happens when your relatives are also your neighbors. What if they don’t like the food? What if they miss the point of it? I was ready to shrug it off. I had it all wrong. Thanksgiving turned out to be very special. Looking back, I realize that a) my defeatist thoughts are quite crippling, b) I was the one missing the point, and c) blessings come in many forms. It was my brother-in-law and his girlfriend who motivated me to celebrate Thanksgiving. They called Juergen with the idea to surprise me with a dinner, knowing it’s my favorite holiday and wanting to take part in an American tradition. Their thoughtfulness and enthusiasm is what the holiday is all …

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 …

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 …

Where in Austria?

After eight months of being here, it’s time to get my blog rolling. I’ll start with a little geography. We live in the southern state of Styria, or Steiermark in German, which is known as the ‘The Green Heart of Austria’ for the beauty of its land and the warmth of its people. The nearest city is Graz, a 25-minute drive away. Graz is the capital of Styria and the second biggest city in Austria, although with a population similar to Cincinnati, Ohio I’ll leave it up to you to decide if that’s “big.” Vienna is 2 hours to our north, and Slovenia is about 40 minutes to the south; one of my co-workers commutes from Maribor to Graz and says it’s quite easy. If you drive an hour and a half east, you can go to Hungary, like my mother-in-law does every few months to get her hair done. Our proximity to the Graz has proven to be an important part of my transition to life here. City culture is part of my psyche. …