31 July 2009

Friesach Cafe

After touring the town of Friesach one day, we stopped at a little cafe for lunch.

One of our friends told us we had to try Kärntner Käsenudeln - which are like raviolis filled with a unique cheese mixture and then sauteed in butter. They were sooooo good. We tried some in Vienna too, but they were nowhere near as good as these ones. They are the region specialty in Carinthia, which is the section of Austria Friesach is in.

Oliver was excited to share some soup with his daddy. Elora was being her usual hyper crazy self while waiting for her lunch.

The reason dad is so popular to sit with: he was feeding the kids sugar.

As you can tell, they thought this was a great!

This ice cream concoction is actually JogurtEis - or a form of frozen yogurt, with mixed berry sauce. So tasty. The frozen yogurt here is incredible.

Oliver thought it was pretty good too. I don't think I have EVER seen him open his mouth that wide!

30 July 2009

Woerthersee and Beach Volleyball Grand Slam

Today we headed to Klagenfurt to check out the Professional BeachVolleyball Grand Slam Tournament. It is a huge four day event at the beach on the Woerthersee Lake.

We got to watch Canada get beat by the Czech Republic, and Austria lose to Denmark before the kids decided it was time to leave.

There were some sponsor booths that we visited, and got some freebies.Elora and I won some Swatch watch bandanas in a fishing game. Elora also got a temporary tattoo. She was very excited and had me sing her the Pirate's Life For Me song.

Next we rented a boat for an hour and cruised around on the lake while we ate lunch. The boat only went about 5 miles per hour, so we felt pretty safe letting the kids drive.

Elora didn't want to drive at first, but Ollie hopped right up to the steering wheel and had a great time driving around.

Which eventually convinced Elora that driving the boat really is fun, so she decided to take a turn and thought it was great. The kids also had fun leaning over the side to splash in the water (not my favorite part...) Luckily no one fell in.

We finished off the day by going back to the Volleyball tournament to get an ice cream. Ollie stole mine.

28 July 2009

Burg Hochosterwitz

The castle Burg Hochosterwitz is considered the nicest castle in all of Austria, possible all of Europe for its uniqueness. As you can see from the pictures it is perched on top of a tall, skinny mountain over looking miles of valley and rolling hills.

We decided to spend a day wandering around the castle. The castle is unique for several reasons. It was originally built in the 800s, with just the main castle at the very top of the mountain. Centuries later in the 1500s 14 different gates were added so the invading Turks would have to fight through as they wound their way up the mountain.

Another unique thing about the castle is it is still owned by the original family from the 1500s! The castle governor's will from 500 years ago stated the castle must remain within the family and it can not be sold by subsequent generations. This picture shows the family tree of the castle owners. We don't know if it is current as the artwork is pretty old. Wouldn't it be nice if your ancestors were so forward thinking as to leave you a castle? (hint hint - parents!)

We decided to spend some time driving around the valley to see the castle from different angles. We took a ton of pictures, but here are just a few.

Karen, the lioness, quickly crept through the tall grass, risking snakes, ticks, chiggers, thorns, and rabid gophers to capture an amazing photo.

We listened closely but didn't hear these hills singing, maybe it's just the hills around Salzburg that have the sound of music in them.

The walk up the castle wasn't as difficult as it seemed it would be. Maybe that's because we stopped often to take pictures though. Here is one of the 14 gate towers you have to pass through on the way up.

Family photo time! Courtesy a nearby rock we used to prop up the camera.

The towers were all arranged in different locations on the mountain and each covered various sections of the valley. It would have been extremely difficult for an invading army to conquer the castle, and in fact this castle was never taken over, even though the Turks made it all the way to Vienna. At one point the castle was almost taken over in the 1300s, but the army inside the castle slaughtered their last cow, filled it with corn and catapulted it over the walls. The attacking army mistook this sign to mean the people in the castle had so much food that they could use it as projectiles, and outlast the seige and they gave up their assault. Good bluff!

At the top of the castle there is a lovely flower garden. Ollie has taken notice of Elora's fondness for flowers and now he loves them too. Elora walked in the garden and was very excited. She said, "ooooh it's a fancy garden!"

Another view from the top.

The kids sure do love them some artillery.

There is a little chapel at the top next to the garden. It's interesting the only things the people could count on to save them in an invasion was God and their fortifications. So it's fitting there is always a chapel inside the castle walls.

This suit of armor was made for the gatekeeper. He was about 7.4 feet tall! His sword was taller than Karen. We wondered if his name was Fezzik, as Morgenstern's book says the city of Florin isn't very far from Hochosterwitz. Maybe we'll visit the cliffs of insanity later this week, but we hear it's crawling with tourists!

Usually we come across squirrels in areas like this, so it was exciting to find (and catch!) some lizards. It took a few tries as the old lizard catching skills were a bit rusty. Elora was very excited to hold, pet, and kiss the lizard.

Look how pleased she is to have this scaley little reptile crawling on her head. What a great girl.

Ollie on the other hand was not raised catching lizards in the canyons of southern Utah. He was a little bit more concerned and disgusted -- city boy! He took one look at the lizard and went back to his dandelions. We'll have to work on that...

Another gate! Some gates were narrow, others were on cliff faces, one had a wooden bridge in between two towers that could be knocked out to prevent invaders from making it further up the mountain. They really didn't want this castle to be taken over!

If you look closely you can see Ollie is tearing apart a dandelion. At least that's a bit more manly. Rarrr, rip crush, destroy! You can also see the camera in Karen's sunglasses.

The kids enjoyed playing around at the top of the castle and peering out the windows of the various towers.

Ollie found a nice rock that he was excited to share with Elora. It was possible to take a funicular train up to the top, but we decided to walk both ways. By the time we got back down, both the kids were pretty exhausted and were fighting over who got to sit in the stroller (we couldn't fit the double seater in our tiny Euro-car rental!)

26 July 2009

Friesach Spectaculum Medieval Festival

The Austrian medieval city of Friesach holds a Mittlealter Spectaculum (Middle Ages Spectacular) every year on the last Saturday in July. The city is closed to cars, electricity shut off and set ablaze with torches and fire pits while the people party. We found a nice farm house apartment rental out in the countryside in the hills above Friesach and are spending a few days here. It's beautiful. On to the medieval madness...

The entire town is transformed into a festival, with musical groups, bards, dancing, and sword fighting on every corner. There was always something going on. Some of the sword fighting was pretty rough, and they really didn't hold anything back when it came to bashing on each other. You can see an example in the quick video we put together below of some of the various sword fights we filmed:

The various market stalls had a lot of interesting handmade leather items for sale. Everything was very expensive. Very high quality, but most stuff out of our price range.

Except for the swords, shields and crossbows. We had to buy these for Elora. She was so excited to get the sword and the shield after watching the sword fights.

This was pretty funny. A young girl was taking bets on mice in a maze. A 1 pfennig bet (1 euro) would win you 3 pfennigs if you guess which way the mice would exit the maze (there were 4 possible exits). We thought the suckers placing their bets would be happier to lose to a girl. Perhaps they'd feel more cheated if she was an adult!

Add this jousting station to one of our projects to build when we go home. Elora was really excited to hit the wooden knight with her shield. But if you weren't careful or fast enough, the knight would spin around and hit you with a wet sponge!

Next was the crossbow station. Elora knocked down all the targets (with her eyes closed), thanks to a bit of help.

Sword fights were everywhere! But it wasn't all sword fights and battles. The video we shot below shows a bard, playing a medieval "hurdy gurdy" (aka wheel fiddle), singing a story about a young prince and a maiden. We mixed the video together with some shots of the fire eater who was blowing and eating fire. After the fire eater in the video, there is a group medieval dance, which Elora loved even more than the swordplay. The medieval musical instruments are very cool and have a simple, raw, primal sound.

As the day drew on the crowds started showing up! This is just a small glimpse amount of people that were there.

Friesach is a very pretty city, and we're going to explore it more after the festival.

Elora and Oliver both took turns napping in the stroller.

You may have heard of the famous Viennese Sacher Torte, but have you heard of the even tastier Friesacher Torte?

At one of the stands, kids could shape modeling clay and paint it. Elora really enjoyed this.

Both Oliver and Elora liked the court jester and his puppet.

Raaaarrr! Elora was a fan of the battle axe. We really like the crossbow you can see by her feet, so we bought it. She really likes shooting the arrows. This is another wooden toy we're going to have to figure out how to make when we go back home.

Here is one of the dance performances. Ollie got up to dance during the performance, while Elora quietly sat down next to a group of kids and watched in awe. You can see the dance in the video with the fire eater.

You had to change in your money for ancient Pfennigs that the town had made up to look like medieval money. Friesach was famous in medieval times as one of the Roman empire's coin minting cities.

We snacked a lot on soft pretzels and pastries, so at dinner time the hearty soup in a huge bread bowl was looking quite tasty! Ollie enjoyed playing with the wooden spoon -- there wasn't any plastic in the middle ages!

While we were waiting for one of the events to start Elora joined a bunch of boys as they were sword fighting. She was unsure at first, and it was cute to watch her slowly creep up on them.

But all the boys were very nice and took turns sword fighting with her. No injuries! (for Elora at least)

Ollie even joined in!

Elora taught this Junge a lesson he'll not forget: never trust a girl with a sword! While most of the kids were hitting each others swords and shields, Elora went straight for the hands. Take that! Look closely at the sequence of pictures above and note the expression on this boy's poor face. We felt a little sad, but he was ok a minute later. Afterwards, Elora said, "What was he crying for?"

More sword fights! Schaukampfen mit Schwert! (show fighting with swords)

Ollie really enjoyed watching the different performances.

When the sun went down, the city was lit with torches and pit fires. The party actually went all night long and ended with a torch walk up to the castle on the mountain. But we left at 10:30 after the fire eater performed. If you haven't watch the video up above, do it, it's amazing!

It was really fun. Unfortunately we couldn't stay out until midnight partying with the rest of the Friesachers. But we'll be back next year. (who will join us?)