An Austrian Thanksgiving

Per usual, I am very late in writing my blog post for our most recent trip. Just pretend you’ve gotten into a time machine that has transported you back to the beginning of the holiday season. Can you picture it? You’re sitting on your couch in a comatose, post-Thanksgiving feast, food coma state and thinking, “oh yay! Lizzie just wrote a new blog post!” Got that image? Ok, great!

It was around August when Zach and I first mentioned Thanksgiving and began to feel a bit homesick by the fact that we wouldn’t be celebrating the holiday with our families. We started throwing around the idea that we could have a “Friendsgiving” and invite a few of our new Polish friends for an authentic, over-the-top Thanksgiving feast.

Luckily, my mom’s cousin and his wife, Bill & Tocky, who live in Austria saved us from having to cook an elaborate meal and invited us to their house in Bregenz, a small town on the coast of Lake Constance.

Photos from when I visited in April 2012

Given that I needed to reserve a good number of PTO days for Christmas, we decided to travel on Thanksgiving day and feast on Saturday. Our plans were perfectly laid out; we had reserved our seats on the plane, I had purchased our train tickets to Bregenz, and I had even picked out a café for us to hang out in between arriving in Munich’s city center and getting on our train.

I’m sure you are already anticipating the punchline, which is that Lufthansa’s pilots were having a STRIKE on all of the short-haul flights across Europe. Long story short, we rebooked our tickets to fly out the next day and changed our train reservations. I was, of course, upset, but at least we’d make it for Thanksgiving.

So we arrived at the train station in Bregenz where Bill & Tocky met us on the platform. We quickly dropped our things at the house then headed back town the hill towards town for a walk before it got dark.

Strolling down the main walkway next to the shoreline of Lake Constance, Bill pointed out the various landmarks along the lake. Bregenz is in a unique position on the corner of the lake; you can look out directly across the lake and see Germany, and if you hike up the mountain that’s south of the town, you can see both Switzerland and Germany.

Photos from the Pfänder, April 2012

Now, if you’ve never heard of Bregenz, I’ll forgive you because it is definitely not a renowned Austrian city among Americans. However, a good number of Americans that I know who have seen the James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, and unknowingly have seen Bregenz before. If you saw the movie, just think of the scene where Bond is on a covert mission on the opera stage situated in the middle of the lake – that’s Bregenz!

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That opera theater is still there, and they rotate out the performance every two years. Each summer, the opera draws huge crowds and sells out every single night. When we walked by the stage, they were constructing the stage for 2017 and 2018’s performance, Carmen.

As it was getting dark, Tocky and I realized we would only have about 40 minutes to get to hers and Bill’s favorite café, Café Goetz, which makes the most incredible rum balls in addition to an innumerable variety of cakes, pies, pastries, and cookies.

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The quaintest cookie display you ever did see

Leaving Zach and Bill behind to catch up with us later, Tocky and I booked it to the café to make our purchase, and then we wandered over to the small Christmas market. We had expected Zach and Bill to catch up with us, so we backtracked to the café to find them having pie and coffee in the back.

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The face of guilt

I have an incredibly weak constitution when it comes to desserts, so naturally, I ordered a piece of lemon yogurt cake for myself. Never mind that we planned to have wiener schnitzel the size of a dinner plate that night. Ok, I hadn’t planned on it, but that’s what happened.

The next day, Thanksgiving day, Tocky and I leaped into action to prepare that evening’s meal. We wanted to get everything made as quickly as possible so we could have coffee in town and to see the Christmas market in the daylight. So with our two stuffings (oyster dressing and sausage stuffing), chopped veggies, and Tom the Turkey happily sitting in the oven, we made our way down the hill to the market.

Christmas markets are so quintessential to a European Christmas; food stalls sell regional cuisine (plus various warm alcohols), vendors peddle meats & cheeses, and artisans market their homemade items. Zach was quite keen to buy some “stinky meats and cheeses, ” but I was more interested in the small log people a few stalls down.

With our Christmas market curiosity satisfied and with our thirst for caffeine quenched, we returned home to baste Tom and ensure everything was ready for dinner. Everything was ready by three, so we only needed to get dressed for dinner and await our guest, Sigrid, a friend of Bill & Tocky’s.

In true Thanksgiving fashion, there was significantly more food than we could eat. With two stuffings, plenty of turkey, and three pies (with brandy butter) to get through, Zach & I ate considerably more food than we could handle. That Thanksgiving meal was like being home for the holidays and was just the ticket for when we were feeling a bit homesick for the US.

The following morning, we boarded our train for Munich and bemoaned our shortened weekend. I did not get to show Zach the small Old Town or take him for a hike up the Pfänder as I had gotten to do when I visited four years previously. But we got to spend the weekend with family, something to be genuinely thankful for.

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