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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Water and Mountain People

Canadians are water people. We gravitate towards it on our holidays. Whether the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean or one of the many fresh water lakes you will find us flocking towards it. We swim in it, ski on it, lay around it, look at it, fish in it, dive, snorkel and wind surf. Cabins are built around it for family getaways, and house prices soar if there is a view of it. You get the picture - Canadians love their water.

I have to admit, it took some time for me to adjust to life here in Vorarlberg. Although the Lake of Constance is minutes away, people here simply do not expel the same amount of energy enjoying it as say Canadians would. You see, Vorarlberger’s love their mountains.

Living at the base of a popular hiking area, I spent months marvelling at the number of people heading up the mountain every day when weather permitted – which is virtually all the time. I was invited countless time to “walk” and “hike” and for climbing lessons in the mountains. Beautiful restaurants are nuzzled in remote mountain areas. Spas, festivals, cafes, ski resorts and so on. Life here is in the mountains.

Tough adjustment for a water loving Canadian. I just didn’t get it. You see in Canada we don’t really do a whole bunch in the mountains – some hiking, skiing of course, but for the most part it is best used for access to the less densely populated lakes and rivers. The reasons for this are many, however when I share with friends here in Vorarlberg they do not understand why we refrain from the lifestyle they so enjoy. Although we do some mountain-ish activities, we also respect the fact that within the forest walls reside bears, cougars (the man eating kind), coyotes and all sorts of predatory animals. Trails are less blazed and people are few – it’s simply different.

Having called Vorarlberg home for the past 10 months I can honestly say that I have come to appreciate the lure of heading to the mountains. No matter what sort of physical challenge I am in the mood for, I can find it in there. I can also find the solitude, simplicity and peace not always readily found at home. It’s a grounding experience.

As an expat, I have come to appreciate that our roots, our culture form a fundamental part of who we are. I was naïve to the extent that this actually exists. But I have also learned that although Canadian, I am also a Vorarlberger (albeit a newbie one) and that means something too. Water may be a part of who I am, but this whole mountain thing is now too.

The Quest for the Famous Kaesspaetlze

The first time I had Kaesspaetlze was about a year ago - and late at night. What I quickly learned was that was a really bad idea. Delightfully rich, the cheesy and teeny tiny dumpling like noodles had me tossing and turning throughout a sleepless filled night.

However I have since learned that most people would not dream of eating this dish in the evening. Specifically for the often sleepless nights it may cause.

But I love it. And in Vorarlberg they are quite noted for this deliciously rich meal. So - that means I have a responsibility to share it with those new to Vorarlberg. Alas, because of the potential adverse impact it may have to the waistline, an energetic walk should precede Kaesspaetlze - for then it is nearly guilt free.

Today was the very last day to enjoy Kaesspaetlze in Schönebach, a cute little place tucked away seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The perfect setting for a guilt free Kasspatzle experience. A long walk in the mountains, an afternoon spent enjoying a perfect fall day while also taking in the beauty of the area - and soon thereafter an appetite that only Kaesspaetlze could satisfy.

Well, I did my part. I introduced yet another to the famous Vorarlberger treat. And the best part? I won't have to cook anyone dinner tonight.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Police and an Empty Wallet

In Canada, if you pay for something with cash it can really mess things up. First off it better not be in big bills because anything over a $20 is subjected to anti-counter fitting scanners. In fact often you will see a sign that says “we do not accept $50 or $100 bills” simply because they can’t be bothered to take the chance. I in fact have a friend that was busted with a counterfeit $20 that he received from a bank – but the hassle he had to endure over proving that it did not originate with him was substantial.

However here in Vorarlberg, Austria this is not the case. It is all about cash. I have even had the pleasure of experiencing the awkward moment when it came time to pay and as I handed over my visa was advised that they did not take cards.

So I now go to the bank. Or rather the bankomat. And it spews out Euros in denominations of €50’s and €100’s. The first time I handed over a €100 bill for a €5 purchase I did what any other Canadian might do – I sheepishly asked if I could pay with my €100 bill. They looked at me as if I was from another planet and promptly made change.

This weekend has been a busy one for me. I’ve had commitments all over the place and burned through cash like crazy until all that remained was 5 euros. Still busy I put off going to the bankomat until it was more convenient. As I was rushing off to the next thing and singing along to Maroon 5’s latest I suddenly saw two police officers jump out into the middle of the road in front of me and flag me over.

As I handed over my British Columbia driver’s license and every single official looking paper I could find in the glove box the police officer informed me that I had been going 30 over the speed limit. Now in Canada I wouldn’t have been able to manufacture enough tears to get out of that one – not only would I lose a ton of points but I would also receive about a $300 ticket and a letter from my insurance company informing me how displeased they were with my driving habits. So I was clearly nervous. I had no idea how they would feel about my driver’s license and if I gave them the correct papers and if I was off to the nearest Austrian jail as a result of the combination. (By the way, in my defence I have been driving in Germany a fair bit lately and getting into the no speed limit highway driving).

You can imagine my absolute shock that once the police officers had completed their examination of my ID and papers that they then asked me for €35. Now. Of course it was then that I opened my wallet saw the remaining €5 bill. It was now time for the officer to look shocked. I am sure he was thinking “how can someone speed without cash? That’s not very organized.” Instead he said “there is a bankomat up the street.”

Doing as I was told I headed off to the bankomat and returned immediately to the scene of the crime just as I had been instructed to do. I handed the €50 over and the officer gave me change and a receipt.

As I drove away I couldn’t help but smile. I had just handed a police officer a 50 after being caught speeding – try doing that in Canada and see what happens.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

To Dirndl or Not to Dirndl

“You have to wear your dirndl,” says the man to me. Then he pauses and adds, “You know what that is - right?”

“Of course,” I reply. “It’s the cleavage dress.”

I don’t know what it is, but my Vorarlberg experience has taught me that men LOVE the dirndl. We are talking all men – young and old. Initially I could not comprehend what would have women happily running around in a traditional dress that also required an apron. The skirt is long, the sleeves are often ruffled. The whole thing is incredibly girlie and seriously old fashioned. But what the whole get up does allow for is a spectacular showing of cleavage.

Let me stop here as I have a bit of confession to make - I am actually considering buying a dirndl. I know, clearly I have lived here too long for such a thought to even enter my mind and perhaps am in need of some sort of Austrian assimilation intervention. I think in some ways I just want to walk around in one - see what it feels like. Will I feel old school and old fashioned? Maybe a little sexy? Though that seems hard to believe - there is an apron involved after all. What exactly is it that keep women wearing them? Or why men love seeing a woman in one? In many ways, I have to think that for a man the dirndl is like watching a woman in maid uniform, a little bit of dress up fun perhaps? I don’t know what it is, but a woman wearing a dirndl is clearing exciting for a lot of Vorarlberger men.

But –do women find lederhosen hot on men? It’s a good question, because most often when the woman is wearing her dirndl, the man will often accompany her in his lederhosen.

Let me help you with the lederhosen visual. Man in leather knickers with suspenders, shirt embroidered with flowers, knee high socks and hopefully no hat walking towards you.

It’s not happening is it?

Where there are dirndl’s – there are certain to be lederhosen. Its part of the whole thing they have going on here. And the man who invited me to his wife’s 40th party and told me to wear a dirndl – you can rest assured that the men are being told to wear their lederhosen.

I dont know for certain if I will actually one day don a dirndl, but I have to admit; somehow knowing men will be prancing around in their lederhosen makes the whole dirndl thing seem a lot more reasonable. And maybe even a little fun...

Ps. here are a couple links – one for the dirndl and the other lederhosen.,or.r_gc.r_pw.,cf.osb&biw=1350&bih=610&wrapid=tlif131757768029610&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi