Category Archives: Travel

Hide your Kids. Krampus is coming to town!

Ok so I’ve lived in Austria now for almost two years and yet there is one tradition that I feel is still rather disturbing to me or perhaps more to my kids.  You see I grew up in a country where Santa always knew if you were behaving… “He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake”…  My parents would remind of Santa’s watching every once in a while if my behaviour ever got out of line and that’s all I needed to stand up straight and say my “please” & “thank you’s”.

Here however, I guess the kids are hard core.  Santa or Saint Nicholas as they refer to him is way too soft, too forgiving and just well, a push over for any child really.  Nah here in Austria they need some scary ass monster to get their kids to straighten up their shit and behave properly.

Krampus is this frightful beast who visits those children who have not behaved during the year.  He marks his presence using the sounds of chains rattling outside your front door on the eve of December 5th. Children who hear these chains know that Krampus is close and normally this is their que to run & hide in complete terror. Now I am a mother who is always first in line to watch any child’s reaction to surprises but not at this event!  My husband experienced this as a child and remembers how frightened he was. Although he never saw Krampus, the rattled chains noise (which was done as a favour from a neighbour) was enough to scare him into good behaviour.  And all that was needed as a reminder was the name “Krampus” spoken out load. Trying to imagine this scary night through the eyes of a child…

I’ll leave you with some lasting impressions that most Austrian children tend to remember come each Christmas season.

“Dieter!  Sit up straight I said or shall I call my friend Krampus again?” <child shits himself>

Parenting in Austria is definitely more entertaining 🙂

Krampus blog

Photo Credit: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

A little bit of heaven from South America

If there is one thing that I remember vividly from my travels to South American it was my experience at La Rábida Ranch.  This family owned ranch, located in the Uruguayan countryside provided a fulfilled day of hay rides, horseback riding, sheep shearing, cow milking and cow skin “skiing”.  Some of the visitors participated and some cheered on the side lines. For me, it was humbling to see the entire family involved in what felt like a perfectly orchestrated performance.  Upon arrival guests were invited to choose their mode of transportation for the grand tour of the farm & beach.   The older generation piled into the antique cars while the more adventurous hopped on the hay wagons and the farmers children rode along side those who were brave enough to venture on horseback.

Upon our return we were served a typical Uruguayan lunch of barbequed lamb, chicken, pork, and beef.  If you don’t know by now South American is known for its excellent tasting meat so our taste buds were not disappointed!  However, being a sweet tooth person, my lasting impression was from the cookies that they served on the beach half way through our  hay ride/horse ride tour.

The Argentinean style Alfajores cookies, consists of two round shortbread like cookies with a dulce de leche filling.  If you love caramel then you’ll love dulce de leche.  It literally means “candy of milk” and when slathered in between two perfectly baked cookies they are the most delicious cookies in the world!  I have tried my best at replicating this delightful sweet treat and below’s recipe now helps me relive my South American Experience over and over.

Now if I can only find some handsome Uruguayan cowboys on horseback to deliver me these cookies once in a while…

INGREDIENTS  (Recipe from www.saveur.com)

1 2/3 cups cornstarch
1 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
2/3 cup sugar
10 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1 tbsp. cognac or brandy
1/2 tsp. lemon zest
4 egg yolks
Dulce de Leche, for filling cookies

INSTRUCTIONS

Heat oven to 350°. In a bowl, sift together cornstarch, flour, and baking powder; set aside. In a mixer fitted with a paddle, beat together sugar and butter until fluffy. Add cognac and zest; beat. Add yolks one at a time; beat. Add dry ingredients; mix. Transfer dough to a floured surface, knead briefly; divide into 3 pieces. Working with 1 dough piece at a time, roll dough to 1/4″ thickness. Using a 2 1/2″ round cookie cutter, cut out cookies; transfer to parchment paper—lined baking sheets, spaced 1″ apart. Reroll scraps and repeat. Bake until golden, 12–15 minutes. Let cool. Flip half the cookies over; top each with 1 heaping tsp. dulce de leche. Top with remaining cookies.

Yields 20 cookies

Photo credit: 1st photo:  La Rábida homepage

Bauernhof… the Austrian way

I must admit I do love a luxurious travel experience (who wouldn’t?) however, there is something about getting back to nature that is a part of who I am.  Always a Canadian at heart I enjoy open spaces, fresh air and polite people and I can pretty much guarantee that you will find that in the Austrian countryside.  Here at Ferienhof Gressenbauer not only can you experience country living but you can actually participate in it too! “Ferienhof” means “vacation place” and “bauer” in English is “farmer” so by putting two and two together and I’m sure you have figured out this country retreat belongs to the Gressenbauer Family.

We discovered this Bauernhof in 2010 ago when my husband and I escaped Vienna for a quick mountain weekend get-a-way.  Karen & Florian run this “B&B”, as us North American’s call it, along with his parents (we refer to them as “Omi & Opa”) and their three children. This farm has 60 beef cattle, 2 ponies, 2 bunnies, many cats, a goat and a pig.  When they are not taking care of their guests they are hard at work in the barn feeding, cleaning and so much more.  Guests are welcome to join in with the daily chores too if they wish – hey, it’s always nice to have a helping hand right?  My husband likes to feed the cows in the afternoons and Florian appreciates the help.

Accommodations are simple & clean and your overnight stays includes breakfast, which is what you expect in a typical Ferienhof.  Fresh milk & eggs come from the farm down the road, homemade jams and marmelades change according to the season and freshly baked bread is delivered every morning.  “Omi” normally bakes a “pick of the day” treat for all to enjoy every afternoon and there is nothing like coming home from a 5-hour mountain hike to the smell of fresh apricot cake or apple strudel.

Also included in the rate is a “Pyhrn-Priel Aktivcard”, which is a “free pass” to use for chair lifts up the mountains, admission to the local public swimming pool and discounts on other entry fees to local nature parks and activity centers.  This card in itself will save you a bundle, especially when you are traveling as a family of 4 like us.  My kids favorite is the “Sommerrodelbahn“, which is like a toboggan run ride on a giant slide that’s 1532 meters long down the mountain.  You can also zoom down on the Alpine coaster ride (on a track) too.

Typically, Austrians choose their Ferienhof carefully and once they have found “the one” they become loyal customers.  Thankfully we found “our favourite” right away and we are grateful for the wonderful hospitality the Gressenbauer family provides.  We look forward to our bi-annual holidays and to our children who will grow up with fond memories of their farm experience.

Ferienhof Gressenbauer

Ferienhof Gressenbauer – Karin & Florian Gressenbauer
Edlbach 15
A-4580 Windischgarsten

Tel./Fax +43 (0)7562/5172
ferienhof@gressenbauer.net


The Cafe Experience

Many of you who have traveled around Europe may understand the importance of “the cafe experience”. Whether it is to taste Europe’s best coffee, catch up with a dear friend or simply indulge in people watching, sitting at a cafe here IS an experience.  As you may guess Vienna is FULL of cafes and depending on your mood the right cafe is probably a few steps away.

My husband and I decided to have a quiet Sunday morning breakfast at Edison in the 8th district of Vienna since we were child free (thanks Omi & Opa).  On the recommendations from another Viennese food blogger, sushiandstrudel, I wanted to give it a try.  As always, it was another refreshing change from the last cafe experience.  This one in particular had a clean & fresh atmosphere, decorated just to my liking with shabby chic decor and rustic charm.  As you would expect in Vienna, the coffee didn’t disappoint.  The breakfast menu offered an assortment of traditional pastries, health conscious dishes and richer (dare I say it) fattier alternatives.  Since I’m too lazy to make any sort of eggs at my house, I indulged in some ham & eggs.  Delish.

For a different cafe experience altogether you could walk downtown and soak up history in one of Vienna’s oldest coffee houses, Central Cafe.  Here you can experience Vienna’s traditional morning routines, perhaps the same of that Sigmund Freud had enjoyed.  Cafe Central has a rich & mysterious atmosphere which made me feel like I had stepped out of a time machine.  Newspapers were placed in the traditional wooden frames for all to enjoy, assorted pastries were displayed in glass casing and what appeared as cafe regulars chatted warmly with the staff.

In this type of coffee house the wait staff will always be formally dressed, which includes a bow tie.  Coffee is always served with a glass of water and one could spend an entire day occupying a table with a single order of coffee.  There is never the expectation or pressure to drink your coffee and go.   No way.  The Viennese enjoy their coffee ritual and may spend hours chatting with friends, conducting business or  simply enjoy a good morning read.  This tradition goes ways back to the turn of the 19th century.

Whether you fancy something fresh & trendy or formal & traditional every cafe will offer a unique experience.  With over 1000 coffee houses in Vienna to choose from I know that I’ve got my work cut out for me!  Thank GAWD I love coffee!


If I were a horse I’d be a Lipizzaner

Interested in living in a historic European city during the winter then retreating to the outdoor green pastures of the countryside every summer?  Sounds like a perfect balance of exciting city life and tranquil sounds of nature to me and given the choice I’d say YES please!  However, this offer is valid only for the Spanish Riding School Lipizzaner horses.

If you are a “horsey person” like me you will appreciate the importance and beauty of this breed of horse however for those who aren’t familiar with the Lipizzaner let me try to explain in a nutshell:

  • Lipizzaner is one of Europe’s oldest breeds – it dates back to the 16th century.  That’s going back 400+ years folks!
  • The breed name was named after one of the earliest stud farms, Lipica, which is now located in modern Slovenia.
  • During “Habsburg rule”  lightweight horses that could serve as military horses as well as look pretty were desired and the Spanish Andalusian horse was brought in from Spain to cross-breed with many other breads = the Lipizzaner was born.
  • The Habsburg family preferred grey coloured horses so breeding practices were adjusted according to the horses’ colourings.
  • Several events have threatened the extinction of this breed such as wars, the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and viral disease.
  • All Lipizzaner are born dark and most will gradually turns grey between the ages of 6 -10 years.
  • Only Stallions are shown at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.
  • It is tradition to always have one Bay (dark brown) coloured Stallion at the Riding School (some say for good luck).
  • Stallions arrive at the Spanish Riding School at age 4 for training, which could take 6 years to complete.
  • Each horse is trained to do various jumps and gaits in the performances.
  • Every horse gets to take a break from performing and spend July & August at the summer quarters and training centre in Heldenberg, Lower Austria.  After a well deserved rest they come back to Vienna to resume the fall/winter schedule.
  • Piber Stud, located in Styria, Austria is now the primary breeding ground for the Lipizzaner.
  • A Stallion will never breed with the same Mare more than once.
  • Once a Stallion has fulfilled his show career he enjoys his retirement and the rest of his life back at Piber Stud.

Living in Vienna has its perks and being this close in proximity to these beautiful creatures is one of my greats joys of living in Europe.  I never grow tired of visiting the stables in the heart of the city.  I even time my visits so that I can see them leave the stables to head for their morning exercises across the street in the Winter Riding School.

Every so often I treat myself by going to a gala performances to watch the horses execute perfect dressage in sync with classical music.  Sadly, no photography or videography are allowed during all performances, morning exercises or stable tours so you will have take my word and come to Vienna to see it for yourself.

On a recent trip to Italy my husband and I took a quick detour to visit the Piber Stud.  I wanted to see the foals since I knew that typically they are born in early spring.  In total there were 39 foals this year, all of which are healthy and precious.

It’s definitely a nice life for these horses and thankfully there are enough horse lovers out there who appreciate the breed.  I’m sure that the Lipizzaner will live on for many more years.

I shall leave you with my photo journal from my day at the Piber Stud.


Happy Birthday Gustav Klimt

For those of you who are art lovers you may know that this years marks the 150th birthday of Austrian’s most famous painter, Gustav Klimt.

To be honest I’m not the “artsy” type who has a great knowledge about Art History.  I do however, appreciate art no matter the artist or the price tag; could be a stunning masterpiece by Klimt or could just as fantastic creative finger painting by my 6 year old son.

The largest collection of Klimt’s work is located in Vienna’s Belvedere Palace, which in my opinion is a attraction in itself.   Two Baroque Palaces, the Upper Palace and Lower Palace are situated on beautiful grounds complete with fountains and immaculately maintained gardens.

The Belvedere Museum shows work from different eras too like Impressionism, Contemporary Art and Medieval are to name a few.   “The Kiss” (below), which is Klimt’s most famous piece used golf leafing combined with oil paint to create a stylish modern look in that time (1907-1908).

If you do visit Vienna I encourage you to designate a half day to visit the Belvedere Palace.  Simply beautiful.

Credits: 1 2


Luxury in the Countryside

When you think of the Austrian country side you may picture small hilltop churches, log style cabins and historical castles.  In addition to the traditional settings you will also find hidden gems like the aenea designhotel.   On our way to a weekend trip in Italy my husband and I decided to treat ourselves to the ultimate luxurious experience and spent one night at this Boutique Hotel, which is located in Maria Wörth on Wörthersee (one of Austria’s largest mountain lakes).

The fifteen suites all have lake view with private terraces and the Italian design look is fresh, crisp and clean.  No detail has been spared.  From silk curtains, Minotti furnishings and Etro Bathroom amenities you know that the hotel owners take their hospitality very seriously.

If you wish to escape every day life you will find it easy to de-stress here as they have a full-service spa with an assortment of massages and beauty treatments. Housed in the panoramic view spa is a fully equipped fitness centre, a sauna and steam room, a solarium and an outdoor pool. Guests can relax and soak up the lakeshore atmosphere by taking the hotel’s elevator to their private beach area.

I’ve saved the best part for last as it involves… what else?  Food.  The restaurant offers two locations.  You can dine the next to the cozy fireplace indoors or in a more casual but still sophisticated setting on the terrace.  We noticed that the entire hotel staff seemed young… almost too young to serve alcohol, however, they all oozed high energy and a professional attitude.  The chef, which had amazing creative talent was no exception. Working with local seasonal ingredients we are told that the menu is constantly changing.  My husband and I stuck with our verbal agreement (practically written in our wedding vows) that we each got a different dish so that we “switched” half way through our meals.

My taste of heaven started from the get go.  The bread.  I’m a simple Canadian girl who would happily make a whole meal out of freshly baked bread so it wasn’t a surprise that I “mmmm’d” the whole way through my dining experience.  Served along the bread rolls were a fresh lemon & thyme topfen spread, assorted sea salts, sliced radishes and fresh watercress (so fresh that scissors accompanied the platter). Course by course we both remained silent and simply enjoyed and savoured every bite. From the Fois Gras with peach, rosemary and sheep milk yogurt, White Asparagus with pan choi, grapes & poppy seed foam, to the delicate Sea Bass & robust Ox Cheek all were presented beautifully and were cooked to perfection.  Finally, the dessert.  We normally split one because by that time we are almost uncomfortably full.  The sweet sampler was the perfect choice, which included tarty rhubarb, creamy topfen cake (sort of a mixture of marscapone & sweetened cream cheese), refreshing lemongrass ice cream and a coconut encrusted fluffy meringue .  They do their own version of “petit four” here too which I thought was brilliant.  Lemon sorbet with Green Apple mash, strawberry and mango mini ice cream cones topped with chocolate dipped popping candy, homemade cassis & lemon marshmallow, celery jelly with chocolate moose and nougat bread.  All flavours worked really well together.

After an espresso (for him) and an English Breakfast tea (for me) we concluded that it was necessary to write a blog about this fabulous hotel.  Tired and satisfied we slept well.

Another memorable hotel experience to add to my list of lifetime favourites and I hope that if you ever make your way to Austria you would consider treating yourself to this exceptional experience at the aenea hotel.

Florian Schaible, Hotel Director, (above)  stood proudly when I took this snap shot before we left.  He personally come outside to wish us well on our journey home.

Now that is service!

aenea designhotel
Worthersee SuduferstraBe 86
A – 9081 Reifnitz / Maria Worth
Austria
T. : +43.4273.26220
F. : +43.4273.26220.20
aenea@aenea.at


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