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SWMBO looks back and can’t believe she wrote: “people don’t really go to church or think about religion.”  What was I thinking?  Some people go to church, many do not.  But I think the vast majority of Austrian catholics do think about religion and it is the foundation of their daily life.  Greetings, holidays (so many), confirmation, weddings, funerals, all are the base of a Catholic existence.

Steiermark (photo from the-burgenland-bunch.org)

Steiermark (photo from the-burgenland-bunch.org)

But enough self-flagellation.  I am sad to say that we bid Ninjaturtle good-bye today.  I thought both teams were equally ranked but I learned that Team Hanoi (my team) had lost.  Shockingly not because of me.  Venice was the one who lost us the vote and all because she cuts her pizza with scissors.  Well, if that is the weirdest thing an outsider found during 10 intimate days, I guess I can live with that.  It was sad times and tears were shed.  Funny how you can know someone for two weeks and get attached.

To back-up a bit: While we were all hanging out in remote Steiermark – the two teenagers were living the fast life in Graz.  They stayed with a friend the first night.  When Firstborn woke up it was to find that the dog had completely chewed one of her leather shoes.  Bummer.  Then the girls accompanied a friend to his tattoo appointment.  They drove 100 km and sat for three hours as he got his tattoo.  Post-tattoo, they went to a heavy metal concert.  Then they took a train to meet us in Riegersburg and we said good-bye to Ninjaturtle.  Ninjaturtle will make use of her rail pass to quickly visit Budapest and Prague before returning to Finland.  Yow – I don’t have the energy to do any of that but I sure do love being a bystander to those heady days.

Steep slide outside Zotter

Steep slide outside Zotter

Speaking of heady – Zotter Chocolates!  I decided to forego breakfast but the gang all had a little something to eat before heading to the Über-chocolate Factory.  I actually picked our farmstay because it was so close to Zotter: this morning we had a whopping 6 minute drive to get there.  We are in RURAL Steiermark where the most exciting news is when the next load of pumpkin seeds will be pressed.  That or the fact that Hansl has been seeing Bettina and the Aschauers’ have a new baby (which by the way is announced here by a wooden stork stuck in the front yard).  But Zotter.  Words can’t describe this place.  Busloads of school groups and tourists.  Twenty-seven hectares of petting zoo, organic cafe, and fair trade chocolate factory.

The entrance price is steep but good value for money.  About $20/pp and you can spend the day.  In our case, we had made this a destination but our Genusscards meant that we ended up getting in for free!  At first it was a bit much for us: tons of school groups, big lines, sensory overload.  Once we settled in and let the school kids go ahead, we really enjoyed ourselves.  All our kids got overwhelmed with chocolate but what a lot there was to taste and see.  On summer Friday nights, Zotter offers free entry to the petting zoo after 6 pm and then a free movie, outside, at 9 pm.  Hopefully we make it tomorrow.  Today, we concentrated on the chocolate factory and didn’t really have time to see the petting zoo and other things.

Gift shop, Zotter Chocolates

Gift shop, Zotter Chocolates

So what about the chocolate?  Too much to describe!  There were 180 different flavours to try so those not able to self-edit were majorly screwed.  And that didn’t include all the chocolate fountains, chocolate covered fruits/nuts and various plain chocolate bars.

Okay, no time to chat.  Gotta maximize the card!  On to Koglhof Rodelbahn.  Say what?  Well, it is a PERFECT metal luge run down a hill with tobagganish things that go down.  We were allowed three free runs each with our card.  I figured I would go once with Lastborn and then give up my two extra tokens.  Forget it!  Lastborn and I bore equally big grins as we screamed and laughed our way down the hill.  BTW – the regular price was 5 euros/child for three runs.  What a deal!

Sommerrodelbahn Kogelhof - say that three times fast.  (photo from raabklam.at)

Sommerrodelbahn Kogelhof – say that three times fast. (photo from raabklamm.at)

Okay, can’t stand around here gossiping.  Gotta move on.  The crazy downhill ride was the bomb but now we actually all have headaches and we’re all really thirsty from all that wind and screaming.  We find a grocery store and buy provisions to put together some quick sandwiches.  Then we head to:  Heiltherme Bad Waltersdorf.

What is the true definition of “spa”.  I am not sure.  It seems it can mean many things.

H2O Therme Resort, Bad Waltersdorfl  A water slide and a bunch of screaming kids isn't our idea of a spa (photo from austria-trips.com)

H2O Therme Resort, Bad Waltersdorf. A water slide and a bunch of screaming kids isn’t our idea of a spa (photo from austria-trips.com)

There are many mineral springs that bubble up in this region and spas have grown around them.  These spas are less in the beautiful-starlets-hanging-out-and-having-mud-packs and more in the old-and-infirm-hoping-for-relief-from-the-healing-waters vein.  With our Genussplus card, we can choose from several baths.  Some are too far away, some are too much like water-slide themeparks.  We opt for traditional, calm, healing waters.

Our chosen spa - Heiltherme Bad Waltersdorf (photo from Puchasplus.at)

Our chosen spa – Heiltherme Bad Waltersdorf (photo from Puchasplus.at)

Upon entry, I am a little disappointed.  I am used to Eastern European thermal baths and kind of miss the dominatrix who locks your belongings up and goes ballistic if you need to get anything out of your locker.  I miss the ancient tiles and weird signs about water temperature, healing properties, prohibitions.  I miss the way you absolutely can’t bring any food in (I defy you to try).  I miss the old guys playing chess in the water.  But I digress.

Chessgame, Hungary

Chessgame, Hungary (photo from budapest-travel.com)

We aren’t in Hungary, we’re in Austria and here we have a sanitized version that ends up charming us.  We soak, we move on to warmer waters, and then we end up in a pool with jets.  Fahbio installs himself but a fellow guest asks him to move over. Much confusion.  It turns out that there are ten massage-jets located around the circular pool.  You begin at the first one and when a discreet gong goes, you move one to the next station.  We are like a human clock as each person moves on and uses a water-jet to massage knees, lower back, shoulders, etc.

We are the only people under 85 in the place and I am so happy that my kids see this.  Old people in bathing suits.  But wait, a young couple come in.  They install themselves in a pool and the young man uses the various bars to start doing all kinds of gymnastics.  Firstborn deadpans, “Not only can I afford to bring you here but look at how virile I am…”  A few minutes later, his amazingly fit girlfriend is mimicking him.  We observe that most people are here to cure themselves of something and most are very old.  What do they make of this display of youth in all its fit capability? Maybe they also don’t have the energy for it but enjoy being bystanders.

Okay, I REALLY can’t stand around chit-chatting because I have another big Genusscard day ahead of me tomorrow!

Servus! (tradtional Austrian salutation)