Category: Travel Tips

Medieval Madness!

Confession time guys – I am a MASSIVE  history nerd. You may have noticed from the posts on all things traditional, plus the fawning over Austrian architecture, but recently I got to indulge my über geek to a whole other level.

MEDIEVAL FESTIVAL IN A REAL LIVE CASTLE FROM THE 1300’S!!! YESSSS!!!!

Here’s the thing, Australia didn’t have Medieval times – white folks didn’t make it over to the island until the 1700’s by which time Knights, Chivalry and y’know, the Plague were long gone from Europe. So, when I get an opportunity  to get amongst something so historically geeky but cool I got a leeetle bit excited.

Kufstein is the closest big town to my misters home village in Tirol, and we were lucky enough to be visiting relatives when they were hosting this wonderful festival. I hadn’t actually been inside Kufstein Castle either so it was a good geek-out opportunity all round.

What I hadn’t expected to find, was an entire community of ‘medieval’ performance folks who legitimately live their lives like its the 1600’s. These festival folk setup their tents on the grounds of the castle or location where they’re performing and all live on ground in ye olde fashioned way. Shared tents, benches to eat at, sleeping on truckle beds, it was cool to see but an interesting lifestyle choice to say the least!

Two kids swordfighting, living the Knight life!!

The festival itself was really well organised (naturlich in Österreich!) and had roving performers, a big mainstage, food stands with ye olde style sausage, mead and ale!! I got to drink mead surrounded by Knights!! Life success!! Entrance was free if you came in costume, so it felt pretty authentic all day. There was storytelling for kids and they even staged one of the famous battles that took place in Kufstein castle, setting off the old cannons on the drawbridge, plus some super realistic fighting…..

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Pretty much exactly how the battle looked originally…..

It was really cute and loads of fun. Even though I couldn’t always understand what a lot of the performers were saying, medieval style comedy is mostly visual jokes and lots of prop gags with ‘dimwitted dudes’ being confounded by their sidekicks


Half naked men dressed as bunnies is funny in any era!!

The museum itself inside Kufstein castle had the worlds oldest organ inside (resisting all urges to make inappropriate pun there…) and loads if info on life in the castle. I’m calling it a castle, though technically (as I was told multiple times by the ever-precise Austrians!) its a fortress, and a pretty impentrable one. It was never infiltrated and was the focalpoint of all Tirolian defences throughout history. When you see the incredible views across the countryside from the windows, you can see why enemies never really had a chance to ‘surprise’ the locals.

Pretty sure I can see straight across to Germany through that Valley

Also in the museums, we got to see loads of fancypants outfits of soldiers, and big ‘ole impressive flags of their former armies:

In short, it was the perfect, most nerdilicious way to enjoy a castle I could’ve imagined!! This is what living in an incredibly old country is all about – and why my mother is sure I won’t be home anytime soon when I can enjoy this on a weekend. Sorry Mum!!

So what I’m wondering is, has anyone else come across these festival medieval types? I know they happen in England but the Bavarian ones I don’t know much about.  I’m trying to find out more info, but I’m guessing all details are probably in German, and though my Deutsch course is good, I’m not quite up to that level of research!! Let me know if you’ve seen stuff like this, or feel free to just share your nerd-out indulgences, especially if they’re as geeky/awesome as mine!!

Schloss Belvedere

This is one of my favourite little spots to drop by on a weekend. A princely little Palace smack in the middle of all the new construction underway for Vienna’s new – and surely gigantic – Bahnhof. They reckon it is currently one of the largest construction sites in Europe, but in pure Austrian style, its extremely efficiently run, as every time we come back there seems to be a new building. But enough of Bahnhof construction sites, lets see the Palace!!!

I am a sucker for a Palace and as far as they go, I think I like this a liiittle bit more than Schonbrunn. That may be sacriliege to say to a Viennese as Schonbrunn Palace is their number 1 tourist site, UNESCO World Heritage listed etc etc, but for me, something about the Belvedere feels more simple. Well, in terms of Baroque architecture ‘simple’:

The very ‘simple’ main gates!!!

Its a gorgeous little spot just for a stroll or picnic in the sunshine. The Palace itself also holds art exhibitions and has a long long association with artists and the Vienna Secessionist movement (modern art radicals in the early 1900’s).

This was also the Palace where Franz Ferdinand (yes, THE Franz Ferdinand, not the 4 british lads who write catchy tunes) lived before he was assasinated and got the ball rolling for WWI. If its good enough for a Prince and heir to the Habsburg Empire….

Not a bad place to drop by of an afternoon. But if I’m honest with you guys, I maaayy use the palace as an excuse to visit my absolute favourite cafe and brunch spot in Vienna – Hotel Daniel

Its basically a hipster kids paradise – funky design, Instagram worthy seating and magazines, indie but not overwhelming soundtrack and cute-but-cool menu’s. I love it sooo much, feels like a little slice of Melbourne in the middle of Vienna!! Right down to the fixie bikes attached to the wall, functional use of wooden pallet’s and inappropriate seating hanging from the roof

They do the best brunch I’ve had in Vienna – which as a brunch aficiando is saying something. I cannot reccommend this highly enough and find any excuse when visitor’s are in town to go and visit it!! They use local ingredients where possible and get their cakes and cookie related treats from a local lady who bakes. Adorable.

I have to give entire credit and many many thanks to the amazing  Sushi and Strudel blog for leading me here – http://sushiandstrudel.com/2012/05/10/hotel-daniel/

My advice? Go to see the Palace, but stay to enjoy this little gem of a Bakery!

Walk in Wien

Walking was something I only ever did to reach a destination, not an act in and of itself. There was always a goal to be reached, an object to achieve or somewhere else to be.

 Panorama of National Park

Panorama of National Park

Not so in Austria. Here they walk for fun, for exercise, for the sheer joy of it……

River Wetlands

River Wetlands

With landscape like this not 20 minutes outside of the city centre, I can”t really fault them!

Walking Track - fairytale much?

Walking Track – fairytale much?

I was feeling a little worse for wear on Sunday, due to a surprise party the evening before that ended in the trashiest of all places – Bettle Alm. But that”s another post. Suffice to say Sunday was a bit bleary, and despite my protestations we dragged ourselves outside to walk off the pain. Dammned if it didn’t work too!

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Once I stopped looking for the “point of walking” I realised I was actually enjoying myself. And maybe, that’s what I need to do a little bit more of these days – stop looking for the goal, the point, the ultimate aim, and start enjoying what”s right in front of me. The simple pleasure of walking, for no reason at all.

Dead tree pose!

Dead tree pose!

One thing I have definitely noticed from the Austrian’s, and am trying to add into my psyche is their joy of outside, their lack of definition by work. Everything in life here is built around your life outside of work, spending time with your family and enjoying your everyday life. Simple, effective. Look how much this lot are enjoying it! Er, you may have to do some extreme zooming….

Swimming Island

Swimming Island

Double points if you can spot the nudie rudie’s….but I”ll be discussing that particular inclination next post!!

My new aim? Walk more, to enjoy what’s happening around me here and now. So simple. So easy to forget.

Fasching!!!

So yesterday, we turned up to the Tiroler Alm restaurant to get involved in traditional Carnivale-style celebrations for the Fasching. Its basically a celebration before the period of Lent starts (Catholic country, remember?), where people celebrate daily life. What this has evolved into in Vienna is costumes, parades and parties.

Little did we know this would end up with us driving on the back of a tractor, dressed as sheep through the main streets of Vienna, to eventually be on a hand made float for a parade through suburban streets, waving to people and dancing like maniacs. Oh, and I had an Amy Winehouse costume and wig on.

Crazy, crazy day.

This is what I love though, taking a chance to do something entirely mental and the payoff is an experience you can”t even begin to describe to people. Until you have sat on a decorated trailer attached to a tractor, driven down the Mahu, past Schonbrunn and in a parade with hundreds of people waving and cheering at you as you bemusedly dance on by….which should be never, because as if thats even a thing people do. Here though, I get opportunities to do the unreal and it usually ends up in a smoky pub, surrounded by fun loving people, eating good food and drinking schnapps. Come morning and snow is falling, meaning a day in bed is still a weekend well-spent.

The things Vienna can do to you….

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Tradition & Family

Huge massive exhausting beautiful long weekend in Tyrol. One of my favourite things about being here is the amount of cultural traditions and customs that you just don’t get in Australia. I’m pretty defensive when people say that there is no culture in Australia, and find it pretty reductive to dismiss our traditions (I could dedicate a whole other post to this argument) but these Austrians…man they do tradition right.

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Austrian Dirndl’s and Lederhosen – not just for Oktoberfest apparently!!**

A lot of this has to do with their strong Catholic heritage. The mighty Hapsburg Empire that ruled for  700 – odd years were staunch Catholics, meaning most celebration days here are rooted in the Religious celebration days. We headed to Tyrol last Wednesday to Celebrate ‘Allerheiligen’ or All Saints Day. From my understanding and some light Wikipedia-ing its a commemoration to All Saints – both known and unknown – and thought to be the day when the “curtain between the living and the dead, those in purgatory, heaven and earth is thinner than usual.” Of course its all tied into the historical pagan feasts connected with Halloween as well. History lesson aside, this was, as far as I could tell, a day when the extended family got together to visit the grave of a beloved family member. I was at once culturally intrigued and personally terrified to be apart of something so significant to S and his family. This was a huge public statement to be invited to join in a very private ceremony of which I knew nothing.

Luckily for me it started with the familiar – delicious breakfast at the nearby cousins place. Unluckily, both S and his cousin R had made it their personal mission the night before to cure me of my Sober October behaviour. I was a touch fragile in the early morning sunlight and chattiness, but it probably helped take the nervous edge off the proceedings. Besides I needn’t have worried, by the end of a beautifully presented, home-made feast of fresh bread (fresh baked! at home! still warm! miraculous!), jams, spreads, muesli with fresh picked blueberries, cooked quail’s eggs and Tyrolian bacon I was equipped to deal with whatever was coming. The first drinks of the day were poured after breakfast – Prosecco all round. Not exactly a strict, staunch Catholic occassion then!

About 2pm we headed to the local graveyard, S gripping my hand and leading me in amongst his many family members. The beautiful thing was, it didn’t feel like a sad occasion to be a part of. I was worried it would be morbid, or i’d be too upset on his behalf to get through whatever the ceremony was without crying. But as we were walking there, different family members turned up (they are Catholic communities, his father’s side alone had 6 siblings!!) and were hugging and jumping on each other in joy. The ceremony itself was simply standing by the graveside, with hushed conversations and – at least amongst his family – little jokes and messing around with the kids until the official part of the day began. It looked like other grave sites were much more sombre, but the way his family dealt with the gravity of remembrance was with lightness, humour and love. At 2:30 the church bells tolled, the church brass band played authenitic Austrian songs and hymns, followed by the ceremonial blessing of the graves by the Priest and some public prayers at the churchyard. It was all over relatively fast, but standing there, thousands of miles away from home, I had to admire a country that kept such rural, traditional and community based ceremonies alive. The fresh, cool winter air and snow-sprinkled mountains surrounding us felt timeless, as did the small rituals I was being invited to join in with. Trite as it sounds – I felt lucky to be witness to something so personal and close to this family’s heart.

From there on we descended into more familiar territory for me, despite the language barriers. A small house filled with noise, people, food and wine. Granny’s special salad, stories of kids and catch ups, a portrait of them all from the ’80’s framed on the wall and hours and hours of chatting, drinking, laughing and a light grilling for me. The warmth with which they welcomed me was overwhelming, and the similarity with my own families way of celebrating reassuring. All in all it proved exactly what we all know – traditions may be different, but families are the same worldwide!

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Candles lit on gravestones to commemorate loved ones**

**N.B I’m working on getting my own photographs up onto the blog, but my digital camera is having trouble communicating with my ancient Mac. Stay tuned for more personal images soon!! **