My host mom’s family is from Austria, mainly, and Christmas is the time when that whole side gets together – plus, there was a major birthday for one aunt or another – so the week before Christmas we packed up and headed for Austria. Well, indirectly. Oma took Daniel home first, and Anna and I followed with Elsa the day after. We spent a day at Oma and Opa’s house and then we headed for Austria.
Austria was great. I didn’t take as many pictures as I normally would have while we were there, because it was a family gathering and I didn’t want to intrude or anything. We spent most of our time with Anna’s extended family – her mother has several sisters and a brother, and they each have spouses and kids and most of the kids had spouses/boyfriends/girlfriends and/or kids… And let me tell you this: Baptists have nothing on eating when going up against Austrians. Our first day, we went to lunch at this little restaurant – a four-course meal that lasted more than three hours. Then we all went back to one of the aunts’ house, and as soon as we got there all the women headed to the kitchen and started bringing out cakes and coffee… and as soon as that was gone, it was time for dinner! I have literally never eaten so much in such a short period of time. It didn’t help that I had a bit of altitude sickness, though, and wasn’t feeling very well.
The kids and Oma and Opa stayed with Anna grandparents – Oma’s parents – in their house, but there wasn’t enough room for everyone, so Anna and I slept at a little boarding-house-style lodging area. It mainly services Catholic pilgrims coming through on a pilgrimage to one of the churches in the region, and instead of just a room with a couple of beds, we basically had a little apartment: a kitchenette, bathroom, bedroom, and a fold-away bed for me.
The second day, it had snowed overnight, so Anna, Oma, and Anna’s brother Patrick took me up the mountain to a ski slope. We didn’t ski – there actually wasn’t enough snow for it, just enough for the kids to break out the sleds – but I got to eat Alpine snow. :D Also, I can now say that I was injured on an Austrian Alpine ski slope, because when we were walking back down I stepped onto a patch of snow that was concealing a deep hole. The hill swallowed my entire leg up to the hip and I punched the snow/ice hard enough that the next day, not only did I have a twisted muscle in my leg and a wrenched neck from falling, but my knuckles were bloody and bruised like I’d punched someone in the teeth. :D
I have to admit – I’m a bit proud of that.
On the way back down the mountain, we stopped at this tiny old schoolhouse – I think it was where Oma went to school as a girl. It’s pretty far away from the rest of the village, and when I asked why, she explained that this was the farmers’ school. It was fairly centrally situated for the various farms in the region. Apparently, about eleven kids made up a full class. When we got back in the car, Omajoked that finally there had been a real teacher at the school – Patrick teaches at a high-school in Vienna.
I enjoyed this part of the trip – though it was somewhat stressful, being the one random outsider in a big family gathering. Everyone was really nice, but I tended to just hang about in corners and play with the kids so I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. Partly because I was shy, and partly for the purely practical reason that Austrian-German and German-German are not quite the same language. It was hard sometimes, even when people spoke slowly, to understand what they meant because their accent is different, and the vocabulary often included words I’d never learned – or words that I had learned different words for. Imagine someone who’d just started learning English in Canada or England trying to communicate with someone from the back-country of Mississippi. :D But they liked my cookies and I came away with a few new recipes to try, so all’s well that ends well.
Next, I was off to Vienna!