Yes, I’ve been MIA for months now. But I’m making it up to you by going back and sharing all the awesome weird things we’ve been doing around here. Like celebrating the death of St. Leopold III, patron saint of Lower Austria, by taking a slide down the side of a 300 year old wine barrel roughly the size of my condo back in DC. Yes, in the spirit of Leopoldifest I climbed a ladder with The Babe and pushed her overboard first, into the arms of two wine barrel slide spotters. Then I took the (surprisingly short) plunge, making a wish for the new year before my feet touched the ground. Only in Austria.
Why head to Mardi Gras or Carnivale when you can really let your hair down for Fasching?! Here’s a sample of the Faschingsamstag party going down in my neighborhood this weekend. Please note that one of the drummers is dressed like Super Mario. But hold on to your sombreros (another popular fasching costume), because the real ruckus happens on Faschingsdienstag, also known as Fat Tuesday. That’s when all of the kindergarteners will be wearing costumes to school!
I’m guessing I shouldn’t flash anyone from my balcony?
They’re really big on social order here in Vienna. This is a place where no one crosses the street until the signal tells them to, and where the local newspaper shames you into cutting your grass by posting a photo of your slovenly yard for all to see. I thought at first that this was just one of those inherent cultural things, but come Christmas time, I quickly learned the secret to all this orderliness: the Austrians have an enforcer.
His name is Krampus. He is your perennial not-so-friendly Christmas demon, a pal of Saint Nikolo. It seems the threat of coal wasn’t an effective enough deterrent for the devious children of Austria, so Santa hired Krampus to be his heavy. Krampus looks like a cross between Satan and a wild goat. He carries whips and chains to beat the naughty kids and drag them back to hell, where they will be turned into demons themselves (please see this excellent claymation reenactment if you’re wondering what that might be like).
Around mid-November, Krampus starts appearing in chocolate form, dangling from shop windows to remind the little ones he’s watching. Krampus gingerbread cookies line the Christmas market stalls, along with creepy red devil plush toys and the even creepier vintage Krampus dolls and decorations. He’s everywhere.
But sweet edible Krampus wouldn’t be traumatizing enough to scare the masses straight. So on December 6th, grown men dress up in elaborately decorated, often hand-crafted Krampus costumes to run down a designated street in the city, scaring the begeezus out of children and adults alike. And if you’re thinking “what’s so scary about drunk guy dressed as a Satan-goat?“, just imagine this chasing you down a dark street while the do-gooders cheer with glee:
If you had that image seared into your young mind and haunting you for life, you’d always wait for the walk signal, too. Elf on a Shelf has nothing on this guy.
We are nearly three weeks deep into Christmas festivities here in Vienna, which means every street is lined with twinkly lights and every corner has someone roasting chestnuts on an open fire. But most importantly, it means the miracle of glühwein is upon us.
For the uninitiated, glühwein is a hot mulled wine beverage, sold from quaint little stands at every Christmas Market across the city. It doesn’t necessarily taste good, but it’s warm and smells like Christmas and you get to drink it outside in the dark, so it feels a bit naughty and reminds you of high school nights spent drinking pilfered booze in the woods.
It’s also exactly what you need when your children are hopped up on sugar cookies and demanding another ride on the Christmas Market carousel. Liquid anti-anxiety in a decorative mug, I tell you.
There are other kinds of warm alcohol-infused mugfuls to choose from as well, called pusnch. These include a good dose of the hard stuff, like amaretto or rum or Jaegermeister. I tried something called a turbo punch that probably had all of the above, since it tasted like hot jungle juice and made my face numb. My favorite was a Mexicaner punsch, spiced with cinnamon and primarily based on straight tequila. Probably not the most authentic, but points for creativity.
That’s all to say that the glühwein/punsch options are vast and sugary, and the perfect accompaniment to a cold, snowy night. Or, afternoon, since the sun goes down at 4pm. Or morning, if you happen to find yourself at a market that opens early. I won’t judge, because I’ll probably already have a mug in hand.
I didn’t think anything could be better than a warm croissant, fresh from the oven of your local Parisian bakery. The crackly exterior giving way to chewy, paper-thin layers of dough. The buttery flakes of pastry fluttering down your shirt. The extreme joy when you remember there’s another one in the bag waiting to be devoured (because honestly, who can stop at just one?).
Well, buckle up people, because IT GETS BETTER.
Imagine if that perfect Parisian croissant made a voyage back to the motherland of Viennoiserie and found itself entangled in a wild tryst with one of the many native pretzel folk. The resulting illicit love child would be a pastry creature of mythic proportions. Some might even reckon it a unicorn among the other pedestrian bread basket offerings.
Dear readers, I have eaten the unicorn. Behold! The Laugencroissant:
It is, essentially, a magical pretzel-croissant hybrid: The shape and consistency of a croissant, enrobed in the shinier, chewier exterior of your favorite bavarian beer tent snack. The rich buttery goodness remains in tact, and is inexplicably elevated by that distinct pretzelish flavor that only a good soak in food-grade lye can provide.
Sweet pain au raisins, I have found your Austrian replacement.
So what does a year in Austria look like? Well, for us it was a lot of snow, beer, hot dogs, baby butts and playgrounds. Of course, there’s a lot more to this place than that, but moving here with a toddler and then popping out another baby right away has a funny way of limiting your worldview. I could have been living in the middle of Iowa for the past 12 months and it probably wouldn’t have been that different. I’m really only now slowly emerging from my Pampers-wrapped cocoon and getting a chance to explore my surroundings a bit. Which means I’ll hopefully have more to share with you in the year ahead. So here’s to more beer, more snow, more of Austria. And way fewer baby butts.
Whoa. I just realized that I haven’t written on this blog in MONTHS. Seriously, did I get sucked into some strange time-space continuum from April until now? I mean, I feel like I’ve been crazy busy, but I don’t really have anything to show for it, other than two tons of diapers and four thousand loads of laundry. But I guess that’s life when you have crawler and a toddler. A toddler who’s talking up a storm and wants to do everything you do, only 10 times slower and at least 5 times messier.
Yes, The Babe is my tiny little shadow these days, tracking my every move through the apartment and making sure she’s no less that 2 steps behind me. If I’m making dinner, she’s standing at the counter with a spoon and mixing bowl. If I’m brushing my teeth, she’s there squeezing toothpaste all over the floor. And if I accidentally say a curse word when I realize she’s finger painting with AquaFresh, she obviously follows suit.
Which is my only explanation for the following exchange that went down a few weeks ago. Husband had The Babe up on the changing table when out of the blue she smiled at him and said, “F*&%.”
He raised his eyebrows. “What did you say?”
Always quick on his feet, Husband replied, “You mean fork.”
Now maybe she really was going for “fork.” Or perhaps “fox.” If not, I will allow myself to take solace in the fact that she wasn’t using the F word in any specific context. Just testing it out for future use, I guess. Which is pretty forking scary since she’s not even two yet. What the fork is she going to come up with next?
I’ll tell you: Heiny Cheese. That’s what she told me she found when she stuck her hand down her diaper the other day. Good lord we’re in trouble.
Please for the love of god, stop making me bag my own groceries. I’m already stressed out by the language barrier, and worried that I forgot to weigh my produce, and feeling sheepish about my conspicuously large, undoubtably American-size haul of goods. Oh, and I’m probably not feeling too good about the toddler screaming in the cart and the infant strapped to my chest either. So is it too much to ask that you just slide my groceries into a bag (that I paid for) after you scan them?
Here’s how shopping goes in Austria: you push your wayward cart through the tiny aisles, using all the strength you can muster to keep it from swerving into the giant barrel of serve-yourself sauerkraut. If you’re wondering a) why the cart is so wayward and b) what’s up with the barrel of sauerkraut, let me explain: every single cart here, no matter the store, has wheels that are on the swivel. So as you’re trying to make forward progress, it haphazardly glides sideways. Usually into old ladies or the aforementioned barrel of sauerkraut. Which is apparently so popular that it needs to be sold in bulk.
Anyway, once you have all your stuff, you glide sideways with your cart toward the dour-looking cashier. He/she sits and stares at you with dead eyes as you unload nearly everything in your cart onto the conveyor belt. Only then does he/she perk up, as it seems the cashier’s only joy in life comes from watching customers scramble to the other end of the belt, fumble with their reusable bags, and frantically try to keep up pace with the rapid scanning.
I usually get about 3 items into an actual bag, and then resort to throwing everything back into the cart. It’s during this process that the most damage occurs: in all the haste, I’ve dropped yogurt containers, smashed bananas, and seen others break jars of jam and bottles of juice. No one in the store seems alarmed by all these damaged goods. Casualties of war, I guess. Perhaps they’re saving so much money not bagging your groceries that they can afford to waste a few things.
Once you have about 2/3 of your goods back into the cart, the cashier is ready to ring you up and the other patrons in line start breathing down your neck. So you have to dig out your wallet and work the credit card machine one handed as you continue to chuck groceries blindly in the direction of your cart. If you have a toddler kicking in the front seat, that spot may have shifted 2 feet to the left, thanks to those swivel wheels.
After everything is paid for, you move quickly to the bagging area. This is where you take all the items back out of your cart and try to sort through the madness and get everything evenly dispersed into bags before your children implode. Then, you guessed it, the bags go back in the cart, and you go out to your car, where the bags go into the trunk. Finally, after returning your cart and getting your euro back (oh, did I forget to mention the part where you have to pay for a grocery cart?), you drive home, and one last time, just for fun, you pull all the groceries out again and put them away.
Does that sound like a whole lot of extra steps to anyone else? Aren’t the Austrians supposed to be super efficient? Should I write a letter to the UN or something to see if we can get this situation fixed?
This is how you pronounce “meme”:
And just for my wine snob Husband, how you also pronounce “Chateauneuf-du-Pape”: