Friday, August 28, 2009

Villacher Kirchtag - Part 01

Kirchtag literally translates to Church Day.

It is one of the most celebrated festivities in the small town of Villach where the celebration of traditional music, folk dances, food and beer took place over a duration of 7 days starting end-July.
The little town was livened up with colourful decorations throughout the town centre. A centre stage was erected right infront of the Rathaus where a continuous stream of performers kept the audiences in a constant state of high, game stores kept the children busy, streets were lined with makeshift stores selling sausages, bonbons, pastries, deadly concoction of cocktails in giant wine glasses, roasted pig, grilled chicken, beer, beer and more beer!
It is a common sight to see the locals dressed in the traditional lederhosen for man and dirndl for ladies. An interesting fact I learned about the lederhosen was that while one is wearing it, he is supposed to 'fatten' the pants by smearing animal fat leftovers from the food on the pants. And...the pants are not supposed to be washed, only to be worn over the years! And as with all evolution, young girls also took a liking to the short lederhosen and quite honesty, they look rather stylish in it!
And what is truly unique on this festivity is the kirchtag suppe served with reindling bread. The soup was stewed with 3 or more meat (chicken, pork, mutton etc) in it and every shop has their own secret recipe claiming to be THE traditional recipe. What works for me though would be the additional of mutton in the soup and the taste is akin to Gambing soup! A taste of familiarity in a foreign land ~ Oh la la ~

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Run! Sushi Run!

While it's a common sight to see conveyor sushi belts in the all-popular Sakae Sushi restaurant chain littered throughout Singapore, this is still a relatively new concept in Austria.

Thus when I spotted the all-too-familiar sight of the moving sushi belt in the Atrio shopping center in Villach, I was literally running towards it in joy!

But my state of euphoria was shortlived as I furrowed my brows in puzzlement of the objects sitting on the similarly colourful plates. Along came a big slab of watermelon, followed by two golden brown deep-fried balls of something draped in golden syrup, then some cold beansprouts, fried rice, fried duck meat slices served on somemore beansprouts and 1 lonely chocolate cube whizzed past with the ocassional few chunks of aged sushi in between.

I think, the proprietors of Sakae Sushi would be clutching their stomachs, rolling on the floor and guffawing out loud if they were to ever witness such a sight...

Stir-fry Pork Cubes

Stir-fry Pork Cubes


garlic (finely diced)
pork cubes
light soy sauce
oyster sauce
carrot strips
green peas
corn flour

(1) Dissolve corn flour in water and set aside

(2) Fry garlic in heated oil

(3) Add pork cubes

(4) Add light soy sauce and oyster sauce to taste

(5) Add carrot strips and green peas

(6) Add corn flour paste

(7) Fry till pork cubes are cooked and serve immediately

(+) This is an easy and nutritious dish to serve with rice.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Happy Potter Must Speak English!

While many of us takes it for granted to watch movies in the original languages in Singapore, this proved to be quite a challenge in Austria!

Almost everything in Austria is dubbed in the national language of German; from the Hollywood movies to even old Bruce Lee movies screening at 3am in the morning. So naturally, it was inevitable that Harry Potter and his gang of two had to converse in German language as well.

It took us a couple of days and many phone calls to the respective cinemas throughout the country before we found one cinema in Graz screening Harry Potter in the brillant language of English!

The journey there took us 3 hours and after collecting the movie tickets and tucking it into the safety of our pockets, we ventured to the city centre for a rewarding dinner.

The venue was a touristy Italian restaurant smacked right in the center of town. The antipasto was free which included a basket of bread with 3 options of spread - olive, tuna-paprika paste and olive oil. Personally, I'm still not quite accustomed to dipping bread in olive oil.

In addition to the bread antipasto, there was also a small portion of cold squid which I found to be quite unappetising. The squid tasted as if it was dead for many days and has since been soaked in the same sauce till it was served 5 minutes ago.

The main course proved to be more appealing, with the squid ink black pasta served with fresh seafood in just the right portion and another teller which resembles giant raviolis drapped with a light cream sauce.

Being the second largest city in Austria after Vienna, the city seems more alive in the evening and there was also a lined-up of programmes in Summer. For this particular evening, an outdoor theatre was setup with free seatings and a roll-cart selling snack and drinks of all sorts were there as well to satisfy the itching mouths.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Road Trip - Mainau, Germany

Early next morning, we set off for the "Flower Island" of Mainau situated on Bodensee, in South Germany. The drive there was extremely scenic - with the rolling green hills, blue skies, white clouds and the tranquil lakes.

The island is only accessible by ferry and it was an interesting experience for me to be in a car, boarding the big ship. The journey took merely 30 minutes and soon, we were queuing up at the ticketing counter of the island's main entrance. No car is allowed on the island and has to be parked at the big car park before the main entrance.

In the lake, just next to a bridge leading to the island lies a very prominent Christian Cross. It is known as the "Schwedenkreuz" which literally translates to "Swedish Cross". And why is this cross found in the middle of nowhere? Well, as history has it, Mainau came under the rule of the Swedish following a defeat in the Thirty Years war. However, the occupation ended a few months later with the Swedish taking with them all valuables during the withdrawal from the island. And for some unknown reason, this cross was carried halfway but eventually left behind.

Once across the bridge, a giant smiley face greeted all tourists and began what is to be a neatly pedicured tour around the flower island.

A small plot of land is allocated to small animals; the likes of ponies and goats where children can interact with. And what was interesting for me were the goats...they are pretty smart to begin with. :)

Outside some small shops, I noticed candies for sale which were contained in semi-circular plastic domes with openings for the placement of scoops. And in almost all of the domes, wasps were clearly having an enjoyable time licking up the sugar. I wonder if anybody buys the candies after seeing such a sight?

By early afternoon, we ended the tour around the small island with a rewarding lunch at one of the touristy restaurants beside a small castle. Interestingly, the Swedish meatballs usually served at Ikea were also available here!

Cream Pumpkin Soup

Grilled Chicken Steak with Rice

Swedish Meatballs with Lingoberry Jam!

Cake Teller - which was included in the set lunch

Monday, August 17, 2009

Road trip - Austria, Reutte

To get away from the hustle and bustle of touristy and expensive Füssen, we decided to drive further South and make our pitstop at the small town of Reutte, Austria.

We found a guesthouse with reasonably priced rooms at Pension Hohenrainer and decided to spurge the rest of the budget on a lavish dinner at Hotel Maximilian instead. Afterall, I'm a true blue-blooded Singaporean...what can be more important than food? :)

The dinner started with the usual fanfare of salad and the necessary thirst quencher - beer.

The highlight were the mains - Prawn Sphagetti with Safron & Sphagetti with Wild Mushrooms. The former was and is still the best pasta I have tasted! The sauce was rather unique with a tinge of sweetness amidst the aroma of seafood, quite unlike any others I have tasted thus far. The latter is less special but nevertheless good as well!

And naturally we ended the dinner as all other Austrians would - with dessert of apple strudel and vanilla ice-cream.

Road Trip - Neuschwanstein Castle (Germany, Bavaria)

Did you know that the Neuschwanstein Castle was the inspiration behind the creation of the Walt Disney logo? After hearing about it all these years, I finally had the opportunity to set foot in this dream castle.

The road trip began in the early hours of a beautiful morning and although the drive was long, the motivation remained strong. Along the way, to fuel the itching mouths, we stopped en route for a break of coffee and strawberry yoghurt cake. Disappointingly, the cake did not taste as good as it look. The strawberries could have been fresher and the crust could have been crispier.

By mid afternoon, we arrived at the destination and was shocked to find the snaking queue at the ticketing counters. It took us another 45 minutes before we finally purchased the ticket for a guided tour in the castle. Lunch was a quick affair of frankfurters and soon, we were again queuing for the horse ride up the castle which, by the way, was not included in the castle ticket. Nevertheless, the horse ride would have to be one of the highlights for the entire castle visit.

After alighting from the coach, we had to walk another 15 minutes or so to the castle entrance. Then, it's another queue for the guided tour into the castle. Perhaps it's the fantasy theme built up by Disney movies or the massive throng of tourists coupled with long queues that upped my anticipation and expectation of the castle. At the end of the approximately 30 minutes tour, we were reasonably disappointed. Firstly, the interior furnishings were not as grand as we thought it to be and more importantly, the tour group was really massive with many jostling to hear the guide who merely gave a summarized summary of the castle in a heavily German accented English (without the use of an amplifier!).
After exiting the castle, we made our way to a nearby bridge - Marienbrücke. According to the recommendation on the official website, the bridge is said to have a nice view of the castle. that I would have to agree as it was the other highlight of this trip. It was quite windy with a small waterfall gushing beneath the bridge. Photography of the castle would really be great from this viewpoint if not for the ongoing construction of the castle's exterior.

For those who are planning a trip there, I do have some advices:
(1) Buy one of those pocket-sized, cheap castle pictorial guidebook and bring it along to the guided tour. It definitely gave me more insight into the furnishings within the castle compared to the guided tour.

(2) Buy the combo ticket to visit the nearby Hohenschwangau as well. This was the castle where King Lugwig II grew up. With Neuschwanstein, he only spent less than 2 weeks before he was 'diagnosed' of mental instability and stripped of his title as King of Bavaria.

(3) Purchase a copy of the life of the "Mad" King Ludwig II, it might just change your perception of whether he's as "mad" as legend made it to be... :)