Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Thanksgiving all our own

Thanksgiving quickly approached and I found myself baking 9 apple pies and giving various lessons on Thanksgiving itself. With the 5th class (aka high school Freshmen) we traveled back in time to the first Thanksgiving. Two reporters asked both the Wampanaog and the Pilgrims questions and a few visitors from the present explained to the original feasters how Americans today celebrate.
With some of the older classes we analyzed the idea of Un-Thanksgiving, which takes place each year on Alcatraz Island off of the coast of California and is held by Native Americans, as well as Thanksgiving Mourning, which takes place on Plymouth Rock each year. Both are two alternative forms to the typical Thanksgiving.And, of course, there was also much discussion of Black Friday. The Austrian students were amazed...why would such a shopping day exist? Why would they not limit the amount of people in the store at a time? Why not just assign people time slots to shop in the store? Their conclusion: Americans are crazy!

With the very young students, to which I acted as a special guest for this one time appearance, we practiced the old stand-by of "I am thankful for..." and learned about the basic traditions and food Americans enjoy for Thanksgiving.

In slightly scary news, on my home from class at the University, I had a bit of a run-in. I was at the cross walk near Suedpark (so almost home) on the bike and a man in black on his bike started talking me about how it was better to ride a bike than drive a car. I made a non-committal noise and when the light turned green I let him get far ahead of me. Next thing I knew, he was ramming a kid (who was also on his bike) head on. He repeated to ram and corner the kid, yelling at the top of his lungs. I rode by and he turned his attention to me. The kid yelled at me to ride faster and I saw him take off on his bike out of the corner of my eye. The man then proceeded to follow me, yelling in German--oooh noch eins! Du! Du denkst du kannst das. Ich bin viel schneller---ooohhh. (Oh, another one! You! You think you can do that! I'm much faster!) He guided his bike into the street, so I thought, hey, maybe he's crossing to go to the other side. Wrong! He picks up speed, keeping pace with me, cuts his bike over and slams me into the fence with his bike. He falls on top of me, then gets back on his bike and takes off across the street on his bike--yelling Du! Du bist der Naechste! (You! You are the next one!) at the shadows as he rode away. I waited a while until he was gone an then limped the rest of the way home with the slightly battered, but still functioning, bicycle. I couldn't walk properly the rest of the week, but I healed quickly.

Before I knew it, Friday rolled around, the night before our Thanksgiving.
It started with school, followed by a massive cleaning, and then a trip to the Nutcracker. Jade and Matt came in from Spittal, while Catherine and Chris came in from Wolfsberg. After a bit of running around, trying to get everyone to our house, we power-walked to Christine's picked her up and hustled over to Lora's for dinner. Losing track of time, we barely made it on time for the performance, and we quickly filled in our row as the lights dimmed. The ballet began traditionally enough, but quickly decayed into a "modern version," by which I mean, for example, the sugar plum fair was wheeled in on a cart of alcohol in her underwear and she danced with a drunken, staggering step. Overall, the performance was still well done, most of the costumes were gorgeous, and the basic plot-line was there. It was just a tad more modern than I was expecting.

Afterwards, we stopped to patronize the gluehwein stalls, before heading back to the house. There, I prepared the filling for my Turkey and made the stuffing. We were all up until 2am laughing and chatting.

By 6am, Riannon and I were up, preparing the birds. She was responsible for one and I the other. We cut through the plastic sealing the meat and removed the small bows Merkur grocery store had placed on top, complete with little stickers reading "Happy Thanksgiving," and began rinsing out the cavities. There was a slight moment of panic when it appeared that some of the guts had not been removed...but a bit of wiggling and they pulled free. They had already been removed, just placed back inside.

At 7am, after being dressed, buttered, herbed, oiled, Turkey one and two were sitting side-by-side roasting the oven.

Riannon returned to bed and I attempted to turn on my computer, but continuously had difficulties. Giving up, I returned to sleep for a bit before springing awake to check on the oven.

Then came the great flood of 10:02am. We found our oven swimming in juices. Quickly, we removed as much juice as we could from the pan, cleaned the oven, and returned the two turkeys.

You can see, in the end, they turned out well...

Soon, people were arriving left and right, while other dishes were still being finished...

jade and I making veggie casserole

The kitchen table was covered in food, ranging from Riannon's stuffed mushroom's to Emil's Jambalaya and biscuits or Chris' hashbrown casserole.

in the midst of the feast

the left overs

I had invited my grandparent's family friends, as well. They left before pie time, but still enjoyed trying many new dishes. It was adorable!
Me with the Bauers

eating some apple pie with Riannon and Georgina (the engineer from Spain). Apple and pumpkin pie were specially made by Kara.

Chris decided to make Feuerzangenbowle, which is a sweet tasting alcoholic drink, which involves melting sugar into it. Naturally, melting sugar means setting it on fire...

The Krampuslauf:
Before the rest of the dessert, we headed out for the Krampuslauf. Dec. 4th in Austria is known as the day of the Krampus and November weekends are generally ripe with Krampus parades. The Krampus is an evil creature, who accompanies St. Nikolaus. Bad children get either a potato in their shoe, are carried away and eaten, or are beaten by the Krampus on Dec. 4th. Good children wake up the morning of Dec. 5th and discover chocolate in their shoes from St. Nikolaus. The entire time before Krampus Day, Krampi can be found roaming the streets as soon as it is dark, rattling windows and doors. On the day itself, parents call the local Krampus Guild and book a time for a Krampus to come to the house. They scare the children and go on their merry way.

And, of course, each town as a Krampus parade.

Klagenfurt's happened to be the same night of our Thanksgiving celebration, so we, in effect, had Thankskrampusgiving. All of the surrounding towns send their local Guild to this parade, which the locals describe as tame. Apparently, in smaller towns there are no fences between the Krampi and the observers.

Snarling, they emerge from the fog, ready to frighten children everywhere...

Sometimes they look like death

sometimes they look like goat-men

most of the time they look something like this: large, furry, pointy teeth...you get the idea

Riannon being beaten by an over zealous Krampus

I spent the bulk of the time hiding behind a tree, after one Krampus jumped the fence and started cracking his whip. I was scared, and I'm not afraid to admit it.

After the parade ended, the others headed off to see what the Krampi would do in Alter Platz, while Elisabeth, Christine and I headed back to enjoy the desserts.

Cleaning until 2am, I finally headed off to sleep.

The next day was the grand opening of several nearby Christmas markets, so I was up and off to Friesach, the oldest town in Kärnten, St. Veit, and, finally, to Villach.

In St. Veit, I followed the Krampus feet to town and to two sleepy Krampi with their masks off, waiting to be picked up.

town center with the little market set up

town hall

interesting looking hotel

I walked around the old wall that still surrounds part of town, investigated the magical side alleyways covered in ivy, and wandered about the Christmas market.

Then, I made my way to Villach, where I met Christine and Elisabeth.
We took our life in our hands and braved the ice skating rink, which was jammed with tiny children skating every which direction, playing hockey games, slamming into as many people as possible, and absolutely no one was maintaining any sort of order.

Me, Christine, and Elisabeth in skates

Christine and me with the rink, after surviving our skating session.

We walked around the market, just as night began to fall and entire town began to glow
church tower and Weihnachtsmarkt at night

Exhausted, Christine and I headed home to Klagenfurt.

The First Thanksgiving

Another week rolled around in early November and it was time for our meeting with the Landeshauptmann (the governor of the state where we live).

Naturally, this included a tour of Landhaus (the former seat of power in historical times and today still where the politicians meet today to debate) and a private meeting with the Landeshauptmann.

We began with the Landhaus in the Wappensaal (the hall of shields), which is covered in the crests of the royal families of Kärnten from floor the ceiling. The ceiling itself is plastered with a giant painting of the king on his throne.

And of course...The prince's throne, which dates back to Roman times when the local ruler would "pay" a farmer to become king as a gesture of goodwill and a promise that he would care for the land.

Next, we slid from the past into the present and into the meeting room where the politics take place today...

Right next door is the room from which the Nazi's reigned. A modern artist redecorated the room with the words "tat" on one side and "ort on the other. Put the words together and you have "Tatort" or "crimescene." "Ort" can mean a place where something happened, or it can also mean bathroom. In this case it means both. Behind the metal door is a bathroom. The artists sense of humor.

Next, we all slid over to the Landesregierung, the government administration building and the home of the office to the Landeshauptmann. He was, of course, running a bit late due to his important duties, but soon arrived for our group photo. You can follow this link. Scroll down and there are a lot more photos to follow. We were even in the newspaper.


Then, we sat down to have a discussion with the Landeshauptmann. The young looking man in the suit with the black hair is the man in charge of our program and an Austrian, who has lived both in the US and Japan. The woman with the grey long hair is named Wauki and is in charge of our division of TEA (Teachers of English in Austria). She was an English teacher in Austria when she met her English husband. Now he teaches at the University Klagenfurt and she's in retirement (well, sort of). She also just so happens to be the former English teacher of one of the sons from the Bauer Family (the family that lived underneath my Opapa growing up in Ferlach).

Anyway, the Landeshauptmann was presented with brownies from the head of the TEA organization and he joked that if they really were "American," they would be from McDonald's. Then he gravely began lecturing us on our responsibilities to Austrian students and interviewing us with stern questions.
Before we got very far, Nicole and I had to run away because we had our German class at the university and time was ticking. We serenely and quietly walked out, closing the door behind us. Then we sprinted to the coat racks, giggling and out of the building towards the bus stop, where we nervously waited. The bus arrived late, but we still made it on time to class, barely.

The following week was the week of Birthdays: Riannon, Catherine and Christine.
Catherine celebrated on her own, as her friends from England flew in.

I orchestrated a surprise party for Riannon because she was feeling blue about Niels not coming. With the help of Lora, I baked a secret cake. With Uska as the excuse. luring Riannon out of the house, the rest of us commenced cutting fruits, baking fish and setting out the surprise dinner.
Riannon made a wish on her double-chocolate-johannesberry with a plum jelly filling and chocolate cream cheese frosting, topped with raspberries cake, which I must say was delicious (if I am allowed to say that about my own cakes), if a bit misshapen.
Riannon's birthday

Shortly after this picture, Nicole and I went running for the bus, which we missed. So we high-tailed it to the train station, where we caught a taxi to the University and still made it on time for class, just barely.

Friday, we celebrated Christine's birthday. But let me back up a bit. See Walter and the other TEA representatives from our program were coming down this weekend for the annual Klagenfurt Autro-American Thanksgiving on Saturday, which meant we were hosting 3 people in our home for the weekend. Walter was the guy I replaced at my current school and he now lives in Vienna. He came back to visit the school Friday morning. From there Riannon and I met and went to our new Couchsurfing friend's art exhibit at the Messe and from there we went straight to Christine's birthday dinner at Salud's, a Mexican restaurant...well pretend Mexican restaurant. Right after dinner I left the group, to re-join Walter and the head English teacher at a classical music concert. During the intermission, we received frantic calls from the TEA head that she was lost on her way from Vienna to Klagenfurt and couldn't find our address. I sent her Riannon's way and hoped they would find each other before rejoining the concert. At the end, Walter and I quickly went back to my house, where a group had gathered and our 3 new additions soon arrived. At last, we lit the candles and wished Christine a happy birthday.

The next morning, I marched the 3 over to the guided tour of Klagenfurt, followed along for a bit and then returned home.

Close to the opening time of the Christmasmarket in the center of Klagenfurt, Riannon and I donned or dirndls

Riannon and I before heading out

Here we are freezing in our dindls, waiting for the grand opening

Lora joined us and the three of us met our ride to the Austro-American Thanksgiving dinner.

me at dinner

The dinner was delicious...but not quite Thanksgiving. We had Knödel instead of stuffing and because I was wearing a dirndl, the crowd insisted I stand up and sing songs from The Sound of Music with one of our three guests, who also happens to be an opera singer in training. Riannon left early due to a splitting headache.

The next morning our three guests were gone, already left for the train back to Vienna, by the time Riannon and I were preparing breakfast.

And that was Thanksgiving the First.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sliding Across Borders: Croatia and Slovenia

Day 1
Right after school on Friday, which included a Halloween party with the 2nd class, I hopped on the train to Villach. On the way, I ran into Steffi, a young English and Geography teacher, and we chatted as our train zoomed along Wörthersee, the sunlight glistening off the peaceful waves and among the golden leaves of the surrounding trees. We arrived in Villach and I met Elisabeth on the platform, bidding farewell to Steffi. We began our journey south to Croatia with our picnic lunch and the sun smiling overhead. The further south we came, the more cloudy the sky grew, until the sun winked out of existence completely. At the Croatian border, we halted for a good 40 minutes, while passports and tickets were rechecked. Once we were chugging through the countryside again, yet another guard came through and officially stamped our passports. An hour later, and we were in Zagreb, where we met bubbly and energetic Pam and Laurie, another couchsurfing guest from Brazil. The four of us caught a taxi to her home in New Zagreb, a suburb of the city. Driving through the darkened streets, we chatted with the driver in German and bid him farewell as we arrived at Pam's house.

We were greeted by her parents, grandfather and brother, before we headed upstairs to drop our things. Pam whipped up a homemade pizza with a delicious homemade crust, while her mother decked the table with a cherry cake for dessert. After a long night of chatting and laughter, we headed off to sleep.

Day 2

We awoke to Elisabeth hungrily reading the history of Croatia and former Yugoslavia, as explained in a nutshell by Rick Steves. After a trip to a grocery store with Pam and her parents, where we picked up some of the famous local Croatian goat cheese and local chocolate, we gathered around the table. We ate an amazing breakfast, which included meats from the animals Pam's family owned, honey from her father's bees, the rest of the cherry cake, and a variety of cheese, breads, and a homemade red-pepper spread (which is one of the foods for which Croatia is famous). Then, we headed out to town, where we met with a girl doing a Fulbright on Croatian films and her visitor from France. Our group headed out—following Pam, as she gave us her official guided tour. We began in front of the Croatian National Theater,

walked through the more modern part of town,

stuffed with blue trams buzzing by,

and headed for Ban Jelacic Square, the main town center. The main square features a statue of the great man, Ban Jelacic, himself leading a charge against, well what was once the Austro-Hungarian Empire and now...let's just say he faces in the direction of Serbia.

Not too far way is Mandusevac Fountain, built on a natural spring, it was once the main source of drinking water for Zagreb and is now the cool hang-out place for teens. Legend goes the fountain is named after an old Croatian war leader, who was thirsty and asked a young girl, Manda to get him some water, which she did. The Croatian word “Zagrabiti” means “to scoop up water”--thus Zagreb got its name and the fountain was named after the young girl.

Next, we wound our way through the colorful markets

to the cathedral in the area of town known as Kaptol—once the site of one of the original villages. Inside we marveled at the elaborate interior, which included a wall carved in the original, Croatian script, and the impressive model/crypt of the bishop. Outside, we headed off down a cobble-stoned street, discovering Mercury on the way.
(Pam and Mercury)

We crossed over the Bloody Bridge, which is simply a street connecting 2 others, today, but was once the bridge that connected the squabbling Gradec and Kaptol villages. Only this bridge crossed the creek and so, it was on the bridge where bloody fights would occasionally erupt.

This formerly controversial area leads straight to what is now Radiceva, a shopping street winding upwards to the Upper Town. Naturally, a tie shop sits along this street, as the Croatians claim to have invented the tie.

Near the end of the street sits St. George atop his horse, towering over a now harmless dragon. The sculpture was created by Austrian artists and gifted to a local family.

Turning the corner past the dragon and knight, we reached the stone gate, which officially marks the entrance to the Upper Town. It was the only gate to survive a giant fire in 1731 because it is believed to have held a painting of the Virgin Mary. Today it functions as a small chapel to Mary and you can stop to admire the fire-repelling painting and light a candle in prayer or admire the chains for the ship, HMS Victory, which fought as Admiral Nelson's flagship in the battle of Trafalger.

Continuing onwards and upwards, passing a sign in German and Croatian which harkens back to when Zagreb belonged to the Hapsburg Empire.

Rounding a corner, we were soon hit by the sudden appearance of St. Mark's Church, which is covered in colorful tiles, creating the crests of Croatia and Zagreb.

Turning left and heading further down the street, we came to St. Catharine's-- the famous Baroque Church.

Continuing down the slanted street, we reached a view of Kaptol, the Cathedral, and the Dolac market and, of course, the Lotrscak Tower, which fires a cannon shot at noon each day in memory of King Bela IV, who gifted the townsfolk with the cannon after they protected him from pillaging Tatars.

We strolled along the Strossmayer Promenade,

visiting poet and local hero, Antun Gustav Matos, before returning to the Lower Town.

After stopping for some ice cream, we wandered the town, stopping to rest in Zrinjevac Park, near The First Fountain, which was built in 1878 after the opening of the first water works.

There, we bid farewell to 2 of our group and the three of us headed towards the Oktagon, a famous in-door shopping street, which is home to the famous and expensive tie shop.

First, we stopped to take a cuddle with the sun in the solar system, after having already seen Mercury that day. Ivan Kozaric created the sun, but it inspired Davor Pries to create the entire Zagreb solar system and now planets are scattered throughout the town—all in the correct size and distance to match the model of the solar system.

Feeling sleepy after a day of walking, we headed back to Pam's, where I baked a Pumpkin Pie using one of her family's home-grown pumpkins. Her mom made a kind of homemade cheese noodles, while Laurie made a traditional Brazilian potato salad.

Day 3 Zagreb to Ljubljana

The next morning, Pam's father gave us a tour of the grounds, including the pumpkin patch and his bees before driving us to the train station. After a hearty round of Hvala (thank you) we were on our way.

Hopping on our train, Elisabeth and I watched Zagreb slid away. Soon, we reached the border the guards, who marched through with the dogs. They ignored Elisabeth's German passport, but read numbers into a walkie-talkie when they came to mine. While we waited for 5 guards to clear a young Brazilian man's passport, we ate the exploding chocolate Pam had given us.

Once in Slovenia's capital, we made our way to our new host's home, dropped our things and went for a walk. Brianna, our new host, was an American working as an English teacher in Slovenia. Naturally, we stopped to whisper to the Dragons perched on Dragon Bridge about the Lindwurm in Klagenfurt. This bridge was designed by the architect Joze Plecnik.

The entire town felt like Klagenfurt's twin or a twilight zone double of Klagenfurt, where everyone speaks another language, there are more bridges and a castle on a hill.
Ljubljana itself was strangely empty as most everyone had left to celebrate the upcoming holidays with family in the countryside. After eating pizza out on a square near the town hall, we headed back and played cards into the night, eating chocolate in honor of Halloween.

Day 4
We began the day with a walk through town, followed by a trip up to the castle.

Fist we slid through Metelkova...former prison and now series of bars, a hostel, and a museum. The government smashed holes in the buildings within the complex to make sure no one would live in them. Little did they know that creative Slovenians would patch the holes with artwork, stained glass, or in other creative ways and transform the entire place into a festive gathering local each night.

We walked along the river, crossing the triple bridge (another Joze Plecnik) to Preseren square with the bright red franciscan church in the background.

Next stop, the main town square: Preseren Square...designed by, you guessed it, Joze Plecnik.
Me in France Preseren Square. Mr. Preseren is a local hero and famous national poet. The love of his life, Julija can be seen in statue form down the street, peeking out of a window.

Then, we wound our way up to the castle.
up on the ramparts

view from the castle

going in to the church at the bottom of the castle hill

Feeling a bit chilly afterwards, we headed to “the skyscraper” which is the sole tall building to grace the skyline. At the top, you can eat cake and coffee with a view of the castle and town below.
view from Neboticnik aka. The Skycraper, literally that's what the name means in Slovene. It was the first skyscraper in Slovenia and is built in a 1933 art deco style.

It was getting colder and darker, so after a stop at the unusual town library with unicorn door handles, we headed back.

Day 5
The next morning, we were up early, caught a bus in front of the train station and headed to Lake Bled. We arrived to a fog-filled town and freezing weather. We proceeded to walk around the lake, unable to see even our own hands in front of our faces.

Peeking out of the foggy lake, the famous plenta boats that one can hire to take you to Otok, the island in the middle of the lake

what we should be seeing, but instead, all we can see is fog

We could hear the muffled squawks of birds and the lapping of nearby water on an unidentified shore, but the lake itself, we could see nothing. As we walked around the lake, trying to keep warm, the fog suddenly parted like the magical mists of Avalon and we could see the island sitting in the middle of the lake.

lake Bled in the fog, we can finally see a bit

the fog begins to lift

We marched all the way around, also spying the castle coming out of the fog atop the cliffs above.

the castle emerging from the fog

the trail

church and castle in background

First, we stopped for cake—Elisabeth eating the obligatory Creme-Schnitten for which Bled is famous, and just to warm up. Then, we climbed the castle, enjoying the view.

view from the top of the castle walls

Me at the top with the old stone wall

On the way down, we ran into Catherine and a group of her British friends who were just climbing up the hill. We stopped and chatted before heading off in our separate directions.

Elisabeth and I walked around the Bled town for a bit, waiting for our bus to come. The houses looked so similar to Austria. I could understand now why Uska continually told me that Austria (or at least Kärnten) was an extension of Slovenia.

Catching the bus, we were deposited quickly in front of the empty, unmanned train station. Feeling chilly and not wanting to just stand or hop around the platform, we headed off to explore Bled-Lesce. We soon discovered an old church and this graveyard opposite the train station, all aglow for All Souls Day. Throughout the day locals had visited their departed loved ones and left candles, or flowers, or both. That evening, masses of locals would return with candles, merging into a massive parade of softly glowing lights and begin the evening celebration of All Souls Day.

After strolling in reverent silence among the flowers and candles and graves, we caught our train back to Austria. I stopped over in Villach for a bit to de-thaw at Elisabeth's place, and then headed back to Klagenfurt.