Friday, August 28, 2009


Today's place of interest is the town of Quentin in Switzerland. If you drive from our place in Vorarlberg towards Zurich (usually done taking someone to the airport in our case), you'll pass the Walensee. This is a beautiful Swiss lake surrounded by mountains and displaying a range of colors from steel gray to turquoise blue, depending on the weather. A nice summer day brings out all the sailboats, and on such a day a couple of years ago we decided to take a ferry ride over to the town of Quentin, a tiny town on the other side of the lake. The "town" of Quentin has a population of only about 60 people, but the tourists come in droves in the summer, mostly to eat at one of the two or three fantastic fish restaurants. Because of Quentin's unique location, it actually has its own special microclimate with lots of sun and beautiful vegetation. There are even vineyards clinging to the mountains, and a glass of Quentin white wine is a must when enjoying a meal of fish and potatoes on the terrace of one of the restaurants. Should you ever make it to Switzerland, make sure you work the Walensee and the town of Quentin into your visit!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fall Plans

Since summer is winding down here in the Alps, it's time to start thinking about how to enjoy the fall. I know everyone loves it when the wildflowers start to bloom in the spring, or when the smell of summer barbecues fills the air, but for me, fall is the most beautiful season. I'm happy to live in a place where fall actually IS a season. There's nothing like the crystal clear air, deep blue skies and brilliant foliage. And even though summer dresses and sandals may be more fun, who doesn't love putting on a cozy sweater and going for a walk on a fantastic fall day? I know we Texans live for that first cold snap which actually justifies dressing like it's no longer summer.

In central Europe fall is a wonderful time of year. This is the season for grape harvesting, roasted chestnuts and mountain hikes. My man and I always try to take a long weekend trip in the fall and our favorite destination is South Tyrol in northern Italy. For us it's a mere three hours away, but it's like entering another world. Usually we go to the town of Meran, but last year we discovered the area around Bozen and all it has to offer. Probably our number one discovery was the Steidler Hof in the village of St. Magdalena. The Steidler Hof is a farm and vineyard run by the Gasser family. They produce their own wine, which is best enjoyed on their terrace overlooking the town of Bozen. We've been there several times now and can't get enough of their fine wine, great home-cooking and unbelievable hospitality. I'm sure that St. Magdalena and the Steidler Hof will be real contenders for this year's fall trip!
The Steidler Hof in St. Magdalena, near Bozen

Monday, August 10, 2009

Beer Garden

One of the best things about living in central Europe is being able to enjoy a nice, cold beer in a real beer garden. Of course, I'm pretty sure the concept originated in Germany, but Austrian breweries do a pretty good job of keeping up with their neighbors. Probably our favorite local beer garden is at the Sternbräu in the town of Rankweil, just 15 minutes from our house. They serve their own beer as well as a wide range of international beers. I always order a "kleines Dunkles" (a small dark beer). Yesterday, after our weekend visitors from Munich left, my guy and I took advantage of the fall-like weather and spent a relaxing hour chatting over a Sternbräu beer (or two) and nibbling on a freshly baked soft pretzel. There's really no better way to wind down the weekend.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Keeping Cool

For all of you suffering through the Texas summer heat, here's an Austrian spring image to keep you cool. Although, I could just as easily have posted a picture of our summer because it's been more like spring this year - lots of rain and low temps. Makes you want to get out of town, doesn't it?
This is the view from our balcony. The snowcapped mountain in the background is called the Three Sisters.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Russian Voices

This weekend I attended a church concert put on by the Cossack Ensemble Ciolkovitch (now try saying THAT 5 times in a row!) in the town of Götzis. A friend of mine, Irina, is a Russian trainer from the Ukraine and is the one who organized this concert. The pieces were all in Russian, but nonetheless very moving, even for someone who didn't understand a word. The first half focused on sacred music and the second, more lighthearted half included traditional folk music from Russia and the Ukraine. There were only 7 men in the group but what a sound! And if you've never heard a basso profondo perform live, well, there's just nothing like it. He (I think his name is Dmitri) could have just sung "blah, blah, blah" and I still would have been mesmerized. I'm including a link to their website here, but keep in mind it's only in German: At least it's worth taking a look at the basso profondo, the tall drink of water (can I say that about a Russian?) in the middle of the back row - wow!

Another thing worth mentioning is the location of the concert. Now, when I heard that the performance would take place at the St. Ulrich church in the town of Götzis (population 10,000) I thought, no problem, should be pretty easy to find. Not so! Turns out that in a town which is probably the size of some neighborhoods in Houston, there are actually TWO churches with the exact same name. That's right, there's a "new" St. Ulrich and an "old" St. Ulrich. Naturally, I went to the wrong one first and had to ask a lady there for help. Fortunately, she was very helpful and even offered to walk over with me (the old church is just down the street from the new one). This usage of the same names for similar types of buildings is typical in Vorarlberg. Every town seems to have restaurants with the same names: Kreuz (cross), Adler (eagle), Krone (crown), Hirschen (deer), and, as I've now learned, churches get the same treatment.