Tirol is a ridiculous place. I’m talking fairytale ridiculous, with mountains, beautiful lakes, quaint villages and the relaxed pace of the countryside. I always feel like I’ve stepped into a Grimm Brothers tale when I visit.
The fairytale aspect is only enhanced whenever we spend time with the Misters family. His grandparents live in a traditional farmhouse. It was built by hand, there’s a burbling creek out the back with fish, a cow for your morning milk next door and a field backing onto the forest. I could not make it more stereotypically fairytale-esque if I tried.
But, like all great fairytales, there’s a flip-side. A terrifying, traditional, devilish flip-side.
They go by the name of ‘Krampus‘ or ‘Perchten’ (depending on your regionality.) They are truly horrible but put on the most spectacular show each year to serve a warning to naughty kids on the 5th of December.
While St Nikolaus is said to brings nuts, treats and chocolates to children who are well behaved on the 6th of December, Krampus is the scary devil who kidnaps naughty children from their families by throwing them into a coal sack and taking them to hell*. When they march into the village in their gigantic traditional masks, hand woven costumes and booming drums, while the fire pit burns in the village centre, you can almost believe you are back in fairytale-times and the devils will steal you away!
For the real impact though, you need to hear the drums, smell the smoke and have your heart skip a beat when a smaller teufel comes past and covers your face in black coal dust. The video below will give you a taste, but to really understand the fairytales of Tirol, you might just have to see for yourself….
*History nerd note – This is the colloquial version of events as told by locals in bars, on the village streets and when trying to terrify an Auslander like me!
It was mini-adventure time this weekend, so despite the weather being less than summery, we set out on a daytrip to explore the Wachau. What is Wachau I hear you cry? Well for starters, its this….
Only a big glorious beautiful area about an hour’s drive out of busy Vienna, completely hidden a little further down the Danube from the more famous Melk Abbey & Krems. I was gobsmacked. I know Austria is beautiful, but the countryside keeps hitting me in the face with just how stunning it is, right when I start taking it for granted…
Countryside in background, badly done selfie in foreground
We had a pretty little drive to get out there, through lots of cute little villages, even saw a few weddings en route – but the effects of recent flooding were still evident along the sides of the road. The spot where we took the photo above would have been completely unerwater a few weeks ago. So to revive local tourism, S had a surprise in store for me, in the form of a Giant Castle!! I love castles! On top of A Mountain! Beside the Danube! Glorious!
Lost the pointy bit on top, but you get the idea, no? CASTLE!!
Aggstein Castle is a big, reconstructed Fortress that was first built in 1350. Most of the roof has gone but a whole heap of the original rooms and castle walls remain. Its been really well restored and you can roam about freely to get a good feel of the place as it would have been in its heyday. Battlements, wells, cellar’s and original kitchen elements are all still there.
Huge stretch of castle to frolic in!
And if geeking out over historic details isn’t your thing, then the views alone are worth it!
Note adventuring Austrian’s paragliding in background
Peeking through a lookout point
We spent a good two hours here, wandering about, enjoying the views, pretending to be from Medieval times and, of course, snacking. Austrian style snacking which is…large:
Blurred photo and half demolished plate due to marauding hungry Austrian & Australian
The cafe restaurant is very traditional style Austrian, super homely and lots of wood. Because the weather was a bit scheisse we headed for a table indoors, where they had dellightful bay window seats and kitschy posters.
The manager/waitress revealed the upstairs area had been a hostel in the ’70’s. Can you imagine staying here as a backpacker for about ten bucks a night??!! Luxury!! I was tempted to request an overnight but S is yet to stay in a hostel (travel princess much??) so I thought this was maybe not the best induction one could ask for.
After conquering the castle our next mission was to cross to the other side of the Danube to the adorable village of Spitz. This proved harder than expected as the regular ferry was non operational after flooding. We had to loop around a bit but this took us past a few different kinds of street vendors selling fresh peaches, cherries and natürlich, schnapps. I got to taste my first Steckerlfish, which was, hand on heart as a seafood lover, one of the freshest, tastiest best spiced fish I’ve had:
Taste’s better than it looks, I swear!!
We rounded out the day at a local Heuringer, which is like a winery but on a smaller scale, where you sit in someone’s home. Basically, for different periods of the wine season, local winemaker’s open up their backyards or courtyards as a place to drink and eat while tasting their produce. They only have a licence to selll their wine, no beer, spirits etc, and only cold food. Which, as you may have gathered by now is more than sufficient when Austrian Granny’s are making the snack plates!! We went to one owned by a friend’s family, and it felt like we were in Italian Wine country – stunning views, sunset, delicious cheap wine, and good chats with the locals
I can never go back to Australian prices for wine….
Spitz Kirche from Heuringer terrace
After whiling away 3 hours ‘tasting’ the beautiful wine the weather came in on us, but it had definitely been well worth braving it all day!
For those who want a visual on where we were, try this handy dandy map:
If that doesn’t help you, stay tuned, because I think we’ll be headed back here soon, hopefully with friends in tow!!
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…..
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!!
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….
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.
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!
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!! **