The story of the immigrant – the recurring tale of people with two identities, their lingering attachment to their birth country and their love for their new homes… For many people immigrating to a new country can be an almost schizophrenic experience.
My experience is a little unique: I left my home country of Austria at the tender age of 20 and will soon be celebrating my 21st anniversary of living in Canada. Any gifted mathematician will tell you that I have spent more than half my life, and virtually my entire adulthood in Canada, my new home country, a country for which I have great respect and love. On the other hand, many people are surprised when they hear me speak in my original Austrian dialect. They can’t believe I have been away from home for more than two decades and I still speak my East Styrian dialect exactly the way I spoke it 20 years ago. You could call me a truly bi-cultural individual.
The main square of Weiz, my home town
During my first 10 years in Canada I travelled back to Austria once a year to visit my family – my father, grandmother and brother. Unfortunately my mother had passed away a couple of months after I first arrived in Canada, and I had many sad memories of growing up. Then a significant milestone came to pass in 1995: both my father and grandmother passed away within half a year of one another, an event that affected me deeply for a long time, especially since I had a very small family to begin with (no uncles, no aunts, no other grandparents). After this I took an almost nine year hiatus during which I did not travel back home at all. It was not until 2004, at the occasion of my 20th high school graduation anniversary, that I travelled back home to Austria again.
View of the Taborkirche
Since I had started travel writing in 2004 there were so many other places to visit in the last few years, and I have since explored fascinating places like Havana, Mexico City, Sicily, New York City, Chicago, Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax, and many interesting towns and places across Canada and the United States. So there had not really been an opportunity to travel back to Austria, my native country.
Another view of my home town
But with the occasion of my brother Ewald’s 50th birthday this year I decided to make a trip back. That was a celebration I simply could not miss. In addition, I had set a deliberate goal to travel back home and to explore my birth region through the eyes of a travel writer and to compare Austria, and more specifically Styria, my home province, with the many other places I have had a chance to visit over the last few years.
Gleisdorf, a nearby market town
So I set off in late July and flew into Vienna, Austria’s famous capital. On a gorgeous day I drove south on the A2 Highway through rolling hills into my home province of Styria. It was as if time had stood still, the quaint villages were still there; the fields, orchards and forests still looked the way I remembered them. One thing I distinctly noticed was the fact that virtually all the houses were beautifully renovated and everything seemed in tip top modern condition.
Austrian bakery products – delicious and healthy
Upon my arrival and a warm welcome by my sister-in-law Anneliese (my brother was still at work) we went for a little walk through my home town of Weiz, and I had a chance to see some of the new buildings that had gone up since my last visit. After a great reunion with my brother and a restful night recuperating from my jet lag, the following day, a Saturday, was going to be the day of my brother’s birthday dinner.
Ewald is a very talented professional chef, so the three off us set off right away in the morning and started the day with visits to the farmers markets in Gleisdorf and Weiz, my home town. Local produce, meats and baked goods made my salivary glands work overtime and my brother picked up the necessary ingredients. Then he started preparing the feast while he sent Anneliese and me on a brief hike through a portion of the Raab River Gorge, a popular hiking and recreational area close to my home town. I added a little driving tour through the scenic areas surrounding the local Goller and Gösser mountains and explored the old mining village of Arzberg. We spent the evening savouring a multi-course gourmet dinner, admiring my brother’s cooking skills.
Getting ready for the birthday dinner