It has been a long time since I lived anywhere that experienced a proper spring. Winter felt like a slow marching eternity of grey days, and we learned to appreciate spots of direct sunlight wherever we could find them. Spring and winter battled it out in early April, throwing fits of rain, sleet, snow, and sunshine, all within an hour. Then, one day as I was walking through the park to work, TA DA! A tree that had been bare the day before had exploded into life overnight.
Let's back up a bit though. On April 1st, Jacob and I picked up these two from the airport.
They were here to visit us for the first time since we had moved here...8 months ago. (8 MONTHS AGO?! Wow. I hadn't even realized.) We were going to spend two lovely weeks together, sightseeing, catching up, and taking a road trip to Slovenia.
But first, there was Easter. I won't claim that Austrian Easter traditions are terribly different from American traditions (unlike their Christmas celebrations), however they do go slightly crazy about eggs.
I grew up decorating carefully hollowed out egg shells with paints and dyes before my mother arranged them as a table centerpiece for the Easter dinner. Here, the eggs are hung on little trees made of pussywillow branches bundled together. It would seem however, that many people choose to purchase their decorated eggs at Easter egg emporiums such as this:
Easter Markets are set up in the public squares, this one in particular showcasing hundreds upon thousands of delicately hollowed out, hand decorated eggs. It took some tenacity to pick your way through the egg maze, knowing that one misplaced step or swing of your handbag could send a whole tray of eggs crunching into pieces (we did see it happen to someone - poor lady). I kept wondering what they did with all of the raw egg leftovers...world's largest omelette?
Another Austrian Easter tradition is to consume large quantities of dyed, hardboiled eggs. One can purchase the eggs from the grocery store pre-dyed and pre-boiled, then before eating them, you play a game where you put two eggs in a cage fight, with the losing egg being sacrificed and eaten. (I.e: You hit them together and the one that cracks first is the losing egg).
Then of course, there are the sweets. Demel's, the epitome of Viennese confectionary, is always a wonderland akin to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, but at Easter it is especially true. The shelves were laden with intricately decorated molded chocolate bunnies and sheep, and large delicate hollow eggs made of meringue piped into swirling patterns.
Finally, there is the music. Of course, Vienna, as the "city of music", always has something special to offer, even if it is simply listening to the church bells ring on Sunday mornings. On our way out of St. Stephan's cathedral we saw a sign for the Easter Monday mass, where they would be performing one of Mozart's masses at 11:00 am. On Monday we returned to St. Stephan's, surprised at how many people were present and the music well underway though we were only a couple of minutes late. Turns out that the mass had started at 10:15. Whoops. It was worth the effort regardless, if only for the opportunity to hear God's praises sung by a full orchestra and choir.
Our second weekend together my parents, Jacob, and I had planned to take a road trip down through Austria to Slovenia where we would visit Lake Bled and Ljubljana. You know how you often see those articles touting Prague or Dubrovnik as "the undiscovered gem of Europe", although they are now far from "undiscovered"? Mark my words friends, Slovenia truly is the next "undiscovered gem of Europe". The country is breathtakingly beautiful, the roads and towns very well maintained, the people are wonderfully friendly, the food is delicious, and the costs very reasonable. In fact, it was all so fairytale-like, I imagine Slovenia could have been the real inspiration behind Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel.
Let me give you a sneak peak of what I mean:
Feel like visiting yet?
More to come on Slovenia!