Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tom's Quarter Century and other memorable adventures

 Happy birthday Tom! (I know, this is a little belated - his birthday was August 12th!) But he certainly was lucky...who doesn't like cake for breakfast?!  (Also please note the fabulous feast, including kaiserschmarrn and all the incredible Austrian bread rolls!)
 Tom looking like the proud Austrian that he is in his birthday LEDERHOSEN! A perfect gift from his family, Tom is now going to be bringing the style back to the streets of Montreal...get ready, people!
(Fun Fact: he actually wore them on the plane home to Ottawa, receiving more than a few double-takes and admiration, especially from one portly Canadian whose wife wouldn't let him buy one on their trip!)
To top off Tom's birthday happiness, there was 'weisse' beer galore! Note the perfect pour in the photo - right amount of foam, it's in a typical white beer glass - as it stayed in the glass just long enough for the photo to be taken, before being knocked over his birthday cake. Serious party foul.
All in all, Tom had a magnificent birthday! (*please see previous post for photos of his three birthday cakes!)

We went on a birthday outing to Burghausen, Germany to see Burghausen castle, the longest castle in Europe - over a kilometre long! As you can imagine, it's near possible to capture, so I've done my best to get the whole thing in (stretching behind the church spire)
It was a beautiful castle, and it was neat to hop over a river and end up in another country!
What made it even better was going with the whole family!

I know it may not look like it from all of the photos of food, but I swear we did do something besides eat! Tom's family was incredibly generous with their time, and organized many trips and outings, including everything from castles to mini-putt! Read on..

Tom's Uncle Norbert and Aunt Anni are avid golfers and took us to their home course for a round of golf. I walked the course, as anyone who has seen me at the driving range would know that it would be a very long and painful game should I be involved! 
This was naturally followed by a delicious lunch! This was one of our favourite dishes: eierschammerl mit knodel, which I think translates to girolle-type mushrooms with noodles and some sort of amazing mushroom cream sauce. Well deserved after 18 holes!
We went mini-putting with Tom's cousins near Attersee, which was really fun, though I lost quite terribly! But note Tom's fine form :)
 Again, our sporting activity was followed by lunch, though this time at a local brewery, Zipfer! 
Along with delicious beer, they served beautiful local meat and/or cheese platters, which was very refreshing after our rousing game of mini-golf!
Next stop: bowling!! Tucked away behind a restaurant, this gem of a bowling alley was perfect, and let me tell you, the competition was fierce (check out that technique!) 
I really should have dedicated an entire post to the delicacy that is knoblauchstangerl. Though sold at most Austrian bakeries, none of them even come close to those sold at the Lohnsburger bakery. Basically, this piece of heaven is a long, chewy bread stick ('stangerl') filled with delicious garlic ('knoblauch'), butter and herbs. I miss them already.

 We were taken on a neat day-trip to Hallstatt, a village so beautiful, the Chinese have created an exact replica! Originally an old salt mining village, it is now a tourist destination, though the salt mine is still active. Perched on the edge of Hallstätter lake, it really is picturesque, especially with the mist and fog when we were there.
Though known for it's beauty, Hallstatt also contains an ancient charnel house dating from the 1200's. It was definitely a bit creepy being surrounded by so many skulls, but it was also an interesting snapshot into the lives of the many permanent residents, with the markings painted onto each skull representing different aspects of the person's life. Most are from many centuries ago, but one woman requested that her skull be placed in the charnel house in 1983! (to the right of the cross - you can just make out her gold tooth!)
 As I mentioned earlier, Hallstatt contains a salt mine, with a small part of it still being mined; the other part of it is open for tour groups. Since there is a constant temperature of only 8 C year-round, they outfit everyone in one-size-fits-all jumpsuits, though somehow Tom has made himself look very coordinated! One of the mine highlights: wooden slides to take you from one level to another! Though I might add there was some serious friction on the behind...!
 After leaving depths of the mine behind we headed to Gmunden, a lovely town right on the lake. We had arrived just in time for their summer festival, which took place all along the water, complete with a water ski show, fireworks, live music and all sorts of delicious treats to try!
Here is an example of a local classic: fish on a stick! Most of the fish are caught locally and then grilled to perfection. I didn't try one, but they seemed very popular!

This post brings us to the end of our stay with family near Salzburg - we had an incredible time, and look forward to visiting again (and being able to speak fluent German!) 
Next stop: Wien!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Just Desserts

Aaaand we're back! Thank you all again for your patience - now that we're home, it's time to keep you all updated with the rest of our adventure. 

I had known heading into Austria that it was the land of delicious desserts, but I wasn't expecting the amazing range of tasty treats that we'd encounter! (Though I doubt the average tourist gets to sample all of the delectable home-baking that we were spoiled with!) And without further ado, bring on the desserts:

Ah, the Lohnsburger Bakery...there were really too many things to chose from, (sweet and savoury - more on that later!), but everything was delicious. It's such a popular bakery, it even has a truck delivery service! Where we were staying, it came on Saturday mornings - when you heard the horn sound, everyone from the surrounding houses would descend upon the van filled with goodies. Bread? Sure! Pastries? No problem. Cakes? Why not! It was lucky for our waist size that it only came once a week.

An Eis Cafe from the Lohnsburger Bakery. When I ordered an Eis Cafe, ('ice coffee'), I imagined it to be similar to a North American iced coffee - regular coffee over ice. Not in Austria - try half coffee, half ice cream. Now that's how it should be!

 Tom's eyes popped out when he ordered this delicious dessert: eis palatschinken, which is ice cream in a crepe, usually covered in icing sugar and whipped cream, and maybe some chocolate sauce for good measure.

One of my favourite desserts: Heiße Liebe. This delicious concoction is vanilla ice cream covered in a hot raspberry sauce and whipped cream. It contains fruit, so it must be healthy, right? 
 Bring on the krapfen! A specialty of Tom's Oma, these are a cross between a doughnut and  a beavertail, but better. After eating about 3 each, we thought we were going to explode, but it was worth it. 

 Iiiiit's cherrrry pie! (Rose, this one's for you!)

 One of Tom's three birthday cakes! 

 Almost every afternoon we headed to a family member's house for coffee and dessert, a perfect opportunity to see everyone, and to try all the various cakes and squares!
And yet another birthday cake, the lucky guy :)

Two crucial Austrian sweets that I now cannot live with out: Manner wafer cookies and Mozartkugel!

Phew, I'm full just posting this! As you can see, we definitely didn't starve, (or lack any sugar!) while in Austria. More Austrian posts to come, and I promise I'll try to show some other aspects of our trip besides food - though it may not be easy :)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

So begins our Austrian adventure...

Guten tag and hello again everyone! Thanks again for all your patience - you shall now be rewarded with many photos of castles, palaces, and of course, delicious Austrian cuisine!

We were lucky enough to stay with Tom's family near Salzburg for two weeks and they were all kind enough to take us on the "Standard Tour" (with Norbert as tour guide!) to all the local hotspots!

This entry is but the first of many of our fabulous Austrian adventures...
The Kaiservilla, built by Franz Joseph I as his own private hunting lodge - not a bad place to escape to for a weekend of shooting the local fauna.
Located in the town of Bad Ischl, Franz Josef, and his lovely wife Elisabeth, would come hole up here to escape the rigours of court life. Rumour has it that Elisabeth, or Sisi as she came to be affectionately by the Austrian public, hated the smell of cooking so much that the kitchen had to be located at the bottom of the hill. Not that royalty is picky or anything!
 The Kaiser liked to hunt. A lot. This trophy wall is but a tiny portion of the 50 000 animals he killed during his time there. But don't worry all you animal-lovers: he caught many of them in the name of education, to teach his children about the local wildlife.
Sadly, I couldn't take any photos inside the house, as it is still used as a private residence by the Kaiser's great-grandson, so you'll just have to use your imagination when I say that they definitely didn't scrimp on anything! The amount of silverware on the dining room table alone was overwhelming! 

 After leaving the opulence of the Kaiservilla behind us, we headed to the Dachstein mountains. Part of the Alps, these mountains are some of the highest in Upper Austria.
The combination of the mountains, clear water and trees reminded us of the Rockies!
A classic part of the Standard Tour is a day trip into Salzburg, which was only an hour away from where we were staying.
Though not a very large town, what it lacks in size, it makes up for in beauty:
the centuries-old buildings nestled along the river, the formidable castle ruling the
 Another Salzburg claim to fame: Mozart was born here!
The admission to see merely two rooms was 17 euros each, so we opted instead for a photo only!
Mozart has also lent his name to the famous Salzburg chocolate marzipan treat: Mozartkugels! If you ever see these in a store near you, buy them!! Or come over to our house when we get back to Canada, as we have packed our bags full of them!
A more dramatic view of the Festung Hohensalzburg.
With construction beginning in the 1000's, it only reached this shape and size in the 1800's; every different ruling bishop wanted to make it just right for them, resulting in many alterations and various uses, including being a fortress during the Thirty Year's War, a military barracks and a prison for Italian POWs during WWI.

 Most importantly for me, the castle had an amazing view of the city!

After a busy weekend of sight-seeing, Tom and I drove to Attersee, one of Upper Austria's many beautiful lakes, though this one is especially beautiful and clear. I have never seen such clear, turquoise water apart from the caribbean, and never in a lake!
The weather had turned hot, so the cold water was particularly refreshing...!

And that was just the first few days! Much more to come, and don't worry - there will be food!

Friday, August 10, 2012


 Ahh's hard to describe how truly beautiful and breathtaking this city is - it's a place I have always wanted to visit, but never actually thought I'd be standing on one of it's many (MANY) bridges, watching gondolas glide along underneath me. The downside of Venice's infamous beauty is that everyone else in the world also visits in the summer! The number of tourists clogging the narrow streets was incredible, with tour boats unloading their international cargo all day. The best people-watching was always at 5:00PM, when all the tourists head back to their boats, sunburned, covered in gelato, and many sporting their newly purchased Venetian carnival masks!
 Venice, or Venezia, seems like a city that shouldn't really exist: a man-made island with waterways instead of roads, churches with docks instead of parking lots, and the threat of floods everytime it rains. Boats serve as the main mode of trasportation, so everything from groceries to dishwashers to firefighters to newlyweds are transported along the canals, with only one road connecting Venice to the mainland (cars and even bicycles are forbidden in the city). 
Another example of how boats rule the city: a floating grocery store!
 This couldn't be a true Venezia blog without at least one photo of Gondolas!
They really are as beautiful and romantic in real life as they are portrayed in movies and books, though sadly for our budget, they were obscenely expensive! The proces varied, but on average they were around $80 for the half hour traditional tour, and $120 if you wanted to tour the more quiet canals. Needless to say, we skipped on the gondolas, and opted instead for a ride on the 'vaporetto', Venice's answer to public transportation - these long barges are like our normal city buses, so it was a great way to see the city from the water (and at 7 euros, it was much more affordable!)
Though the gondola business is now a ludicrous tourist-trap, the history of these boats spans many centuries. Pictured here is where these renowned are made; tucked away in a quiet corner of the city, this little workshop seems frozen in time, with gonodoliers working on their boats for upwards of two months. Apparently to become a gondolier is quite difficult - the trade is usually passed down from father to son.
We had to try a Bellini, a typical Venetian drink: prosecco mixed with white peach juice. These little bottles were in many ofthe corner stores dotted around the city, and were a perfect respite from the relentless heat - it turns out there isn't much in the way of shade or benches in Venice! (On our second foray to the city we found the Public Gardens, where we blissfully spent the day under the trees!)

The Bridge of Sighs. 
This bridge transported convicted criminals to their final resting place (jail), so the barred windows were their last look at the outside world. As legend has it, Casanova passed along this bridge, though he ended up escaping. 
Around every corner there was yet another beautiful canal lined with beautiful, centuries-old buildings...choosing amongst hundreds of photos is no easy task!
Our last view of Venice before we boarded the night-train to head to Austria...!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Chioggia: pizza utopia!

When planning our Italy trip, Tom and I didn't know where to go after Florence, so we made a last-minute decision and decided to hang out in Chioggia for a week, a decision that proved to be fantastic!
After a tearful goodbye at the train station, we bid Jodi Ciao-Adieu-Bon voyage, and headed off to an unknown city on the Venetian Lagoon. Only a 1.5 hour boat ride from Venice, Chioggia turned out to be a sleepy fishing village, where tourists were rare (though all Italian), and English-speakers even more scarce - with our very poor Italian, this proved difficult but a real adventure!  
 This was our regional train to Chioggia - I've never seen such a tiny train! We knew we were in for an adventure when we pulled into the Chioggia train 'station', which consisted of a bar, and that's it! We also got quite lost on the way to our hotel, since directions in Italian were not that useful!
After settling into our adorable hotel (family owned and run for 45 years!), we naturally set out to look for sustenance: lucky for us, we stumbled across a hole-in-the-wall pizzeria which was owned and operated by Mauro, a 2-time World Pizza Champ, and 3-time Italian Pizza champ! As you might've guessed, the pizza was DELICIOUS, and we ate it 6/8 nights! Pictured up top was our fave: crema di funghi.
Chioggia, as I said before, is a working fishing village, with a similar set-up to Venice, with canals and bridges criss-crossing the streets. It was a nice change from the various tourist-trap cities, like Paris and Florence, to be in a place where life is much slower and we weren't being hassled to buy faux Chanel bags at every corner.  The city itself is an island, connected to the mainland by bridges; we stayed in Sottomarina, the 'newer' part of the city on the otherside of Chioggia's marina. Sottomarina is essentially a long peninsula with a white sand beach stretching the length of it, all of which is owned in sections by various hotels and campgrounds. The waterfront had a 70s resort feel to it, with Italian tourists walking around in speedos!

Our hotel owned several spots on a beach for its guests, so we didn't have to rent chairs and an umbrella like other visitors, which saved us some serious cash, as we went to the beach everyday! The water was like Sandbanks, with shallow water for long stretches and big waves! There was also GREAT people watching opportunities, with families of all shapes and sizes coming to spend the day at the beach - speedos, topless women, beach aerobics to Italian-dubbed Lady Gaga songs, black market handbags, the list goes on...!
Twice a week there is what's called the 'People's Market', which Tom and I were hoping would be food, but it turned out be stall after endless stall of everything a person could want, non-food wise: pots + pans, hats, underwear, tablecloths, electronics, and of course, the infamous Italian Mama-frocks (pictured above - Jodi this one's for you!) I almost bought one. I guess there aren't too many shopping opportunities nearby, so the market is where everyone goes for their everyday needs.

Though not unique to Chioggia, these three-wheeled trucks made me laugh everytime I saw one - I had to include a photo on the blog!! The cab barely has enough room for one person, but they are all over the place! It's not much bigger than a smartcar!

Here we are on our favourite beach, having a last pizza meal before heading off to Venice, and then Austria!

More to come...Venezia is next!