Berny and Gerlinda, two Austrian sisters, were my au pairs in the early 90s (when I was about 4 years old). I remember having a lot of fun with them, and was excited when Berny found my mom on Facebook a few years back. Since I knew we’d be in Germany for a little bit, I thought it’d be great to meet up with her. She invited us to spend a long weekend with her family. When we arrived in Salzburg, Berny and her gorgeous nine-year-old daughter, Tabea were waiting on the platform. She looked just like I remembered! We then found Conny, her husband, who I had met as her boyfriend when they visited our family in ’92. All of us rode in their posh Porsch SUV to see Salzburg, the quaint (but very expensive) stores and of course, Mozart’s house.
We toured the house which was interesting, but most intriguing for me was that someone had saved locks of his hair. Hmm. Anyways, after eating lunch at a cute place with lots of vegan options (I had pad thai, and Julian had some sort of curry potato dish), we drove to Bad Aussee through amazing vistas of mountains and lakes. We even passed the super modern offices of Red Bull, which looked like a space station located on a picturesque lake.
Once in Bad Aussee, we unpacked into our new mountain top cabin which was luxurious with hard wood floors, heated tiles in the bathrooms, and a sauna.
We met their family friends who were sharing the cabin with us, and all of us, went out to dinner at an authentic Austrian restaurant. Julian and I were still full from lunch so we just ordered “kleine beir” (small beers) but upon seeing them empty halfway through everyone else’s meal, we ordered more. The rest of the weekend followed this way. Being lightweights and at a higher altitude, we were quickly tipsy. Berny and I caught up while Julian watched Ella (the other family’s younger daughter) and Tabea meowing and barking at the restaurant’s cat. The next day we had a long breakfast outside.
Everyone else ate rolls with thin slices of meat and cheese, and we had rolls with jelly and orange juice. Then we headed to explore the salt mines. I made a horrible decision to wear my Vibrams, not realizing that we would be walking through manmade salt mines in the middle of a mountain– the point is, it was around 40 degrees F inside. Additionally, the tour was in German but we managed to get the gist. The mines had a long history though, and were important in saving famous artwork from being destroyed during WWII. The main appeal of the salt mine for the children at least was the extremely long and fairly steep wooden slides. Julian and I went two at a time which was really fun.
The main reason for this family excusion to Bad Aussee was the Kirtag, which is a beer festival a lot like Oktoberfest, but on a smaller, and more authentic scale. Tourists don’t usually go to this festival, and the Austrians are proud that in 50 years, the festival tent hasn’t grown at all. Every year, it’s the same size, just with more people.
Berny had kindly warned me that people ate entire roasted chickens at the festival, so I knew to not be shocked when we witnessed this but I was unprepared for how fulfilling the food that we would eat would be. We got to eat lots of fresh saurkraut, fresh rolls, these deep-fried breads with garlic and salt, and lots of beer (of course!). Here’s one day’s lunch at a near-by restaurant:
We also had delicious local schnapps that even Julian, who often claims he never drinks hard alcohol, was persuaded to sip on. The feeling of festival was ultimately familiar with slightly different carnival rides, costumes, and food. The tents for traditional dancing and shooting games were different though. We spent a lot of time with the latter and Julian had an uncannily accurate shot. Everyone at the festival wears the traditional clothing of girndle (a busom-y dress with gingham print underneath an apron) and lederhosen (essentially leather overalls). Berny borrowed a friends’ girndle so I fit in with the crowd.
People are very friendly at Kirtag and would just introduce themselves to us, so we met a lot of Austrians and even an Indian who gave us tips on traveling in India.
I noticed lots of interesting animalistic pride in wearing leather lederhosen, and horn knives though. Some people are on four-year waiting list to get a traditionally made leather lederhosen. The cows and deer seem like they’d live a peaceful life in the gorgeous mountains of Austria but I can’t imagine the way they’d feel being led to slaughter just for someone to wear traditional clothing. Aside from that, the festival was really fun and we were treated to a good time by everyone we met.
After the Kirtag, we drove back to Berny’s home in the village. Everyone called this town a village, but we laughed when we saw it because to us, it was just a small town with the usual grocery stores and quaint downtown area. It’s funny the way conceptions of scale vary.
Staying in their home felt so comforting after traveling so much. Their home was built with beautiful golden wood and big windows looking out into colorful gardens, and they had designed it all themselves. Julian and I offered to make dinner for the family and so we went grocery shopping and started preparing my favorite cashew nut loaf with a port wine sauce, and a sun dried tomato pilaf with roasted veggies.
Somehow these two recipes took us forever!! Berny even helped but it still took way longer than we expected, so everyone was super hungry by the time it was ready. The dishes turned out fine, but I’m not sure it held up to our expectations. Oh well! This was our second dose of making meals for a family and having it not turn out as well as we’d like. (We tried making dinner for Bishawjit and Dipika, just veggie schnitzel with pasta and veggies, but everything was a little under-seasoned…) Such is life I suppose. After dinner, Berny, Jonas, Tabea, and their cousin obliged me in playing some surrealist word games. We had a really fun time with exquisite corpse and fax machine before settling into a long game of “guessing the person whose name is on your forehead” (does this game have a name??) Anyways, I was utterly useless at this since I haven’t paid attention to pop culture since 2005. After we all finally guessed our names (Mr. Bean and Lady Gaga being the most humorous ones), Julian and I watched a movie and went to bed.
The next day we enjoyed a long breakfast on the back patio. We had soy yogurt, fruit juice, tea and coffee, toast with jam, and fresh grapes from the garden. While we packed up (so soon!) Berny made us an amazing lunch, a curry cabbage soup (whose name eludes me now) and a vegan goulash with veggie sausage.
We scarfed this down and headed to visit Gerlinda, Berny’s sister who was my other au pair. Gerlinda also had a beautiful house and a gorgeous backyard where she had set out all sorts of cut fruit, cookies, and coffee. *sigh* we were in heaven. We caught up for a while and then had to head to the train station. We first stopped in at her store where we met another one of their sisters and Gerlinda gave me a silver bracelet with charms on it. I was so touched, I started crying! I felt so lucky to be looked after when I was young and now, by such sweet and generous women. Berny walked us to the train and waited for it to arrive.
We said our sad goodbyes and got on the train. For the first ten minutes of the ride, Julian and I just looked sadly at each other. Everywhere we had been, such nice people had taken care of us. It’s hard to always be on the move and to not really feel like you’re giving back to them. We knew that wouldn’t be the last time we’d feel this way.