Austria 2011: Great Easter Meals, Exploring Austrian Castles & an Excursion to Hungary
After 2 amazing weeks in Spain I had finally reached my home country, Austria. On Easter Monday, April 25, 2011 my brother and sister-in-law took me on a morning walk of my home town of Weiz, a small town in the eastern part of Austrian province of Styria. One of the main attractions in this town is the Taborkirche, a stout Romanesque church that was mentioned in historical records as early as 1188. Even more impressive is the Church of Our Lady (Marienkirche) on the hill that overlooks the city: the current church, built between 1757 and 1758, is a late Baroque masterpiece and an official pilgrimage church. The town also has some Renaissance monuments: the Castle of Thannhausen was built around 1550 AD and its arcaded courtyard frequently hosts concerts and special events.
Having enjoyed the phenomenal cooking of my brother, a trained chef, we were joined in the afternoon by my sister-in-law’s family for an excursion to Lake Stubenberg, an artificial lake about 40 minutes east of Weiz. This man-made body of water has become an important recreational destination – it offers boat and bicycle rentals, beach volleyball, a surfing school, several children’s playgrounds and various gastronomic establishments. We walked around the entire lake and enjoyed an ice cream while the clouds were getting darker.
Just as the heavens unleashed their wet cargo, we hopped into our cars and drove back home for a nice Easter meal: a traditional Austrian Easter meal often consists of a platter with different types of sliced smoked meat (delicious!) covered with grated horseradish, hard-boiled eggs, cheeses, and sweet Easter bread. After 25 years in Canada, my taste buds still experience delight when exposed to traditional Austrian food.In the evening, after the rain had finished, a phenomenal rainbow adorned the sky above the town.
The next day I visited my good friends Andrea and Herbert in my home town. They ended up driving with me to the mountain village of Birkfeld where I got to meet Herbert’s family who all live in a mountain farm that has been there for centuries. Birkfeld itself is a small town with about 1600 people that is nestled into the mountains of Eastern Styria. The surrounding area is a mecca for hikers, bicyclists and skiers and a popular destination for urban dwellers from Vienna and even tourists from northern Germany. We took a scenic walk that gave us great views over Eastern Styria towards the picturesque Mürz Valley. We capped off a lovely day with a nice chat and another delicious traditional Easter platter.
On April 27, 2011 there was not going to be any sightseeing – instead I had to work, teaching a seminar about Canadian Cultural Studies at the Pedagogic University of Graz. The university offers continuing education courses for high school teachers throughout the province, and English teachers are offered seminars about the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and other English speaking countries. 2011 was the first year that Canada was included in the curriculum and I felt proud to have been invited as the expert speaker on Canada’s culture. I had prepared for weeks for this seminar and was extremely nervous leading up to it, but in the end it seemed to have gone well, the audience appreciated the information and I was glad that the official teaching part of my European stay was over.
April 28, 2011 was my last day in Austria, and my brother, my sister-in-law and I went on an excursion to the Austrian province of Burgenland. Literally translated, Burgenland means “castle country”, and for good reason: this region has a wealth of historic castles and fortresses. We started our visit with the Castle of Bernstein, which today houses an upscale hotel. As this is private property, access is only feasible for hotel guests. But we were able to visit the castle’s gardens, and in town we also visited a store that sells the famous green-coloured serpentine stone that can be found locally.