Austria, Birkfeld, bonsai, Canada Day, couchsurfing, croatia, fruit trees, genusscard, Genusscardplus, Gong music, green gold, Japanese garden, pumpkin seed oil, Slovenia, Steiermark, Styria, vineyards, wine house, wine regions
SWMBO survives the Genusscard.
Yesterday we had a frantic morning packing out. We managed (just) to make the noon check-out. In theory, we could have used our Genusscard all day. In practicality, many places were either too far away, closed on Sunday, or closed from noon to three and we were suffering from a major case of Genusscard fatigue. Onlyboy was pushing hard to do more stuff with the card. He was really enjoying all of our outings. In the end, we found a bonsai show garden just ten minutes from our place in Riegersburg and on the way to our next destination, Slovenia.
At the bonsai garden, we were greeted by an Austrian man in traditional lederhosen. He didn’t speak any English so I acted as translator during our personally guided tour. We learned a lot about the art of bonsai and enjoyed the beautiful Japanese garden he had created in his backyard. We had the place to ourselves and he was friendly and accommodating. The girls had a great time playing the gong. They had honed their technique at the Noise Museum in Birkfeld so they were creating soothing sounds that vibrated through the leaves, koi pond, sundial, fountain and through us.
I asked him about the pumpkin seed oil he sells and he told me that he grows his own Styrian pumpkins. These special pumpkins have seeds without that hard, white outer shell. The seeds are green and can be eaten as is. His field produces 40 kg of dried seeds. He takes them to a small mill nearby. At the mill, he chops, lightly salts and roasts the seeds over very low heat for 2½ hours. Then the seeds are pressed and he goes home that same afternoon with the green gold that he knows is made from his own seeds.
He took us into his garage and opened his steel vat to let us smell the oil that he had just pressed on Thursday. What an aroma. The people here keep their seeds all winter and press small batches of oil every couple of weeks, as they need it. That is how it comes to be so fresh. I bought ½ litre as a souvenir and to thank him for our wonderful tour. Pumpkin seed oil is expensive but you don’t even have to taste it to become addicted. All you have to do is smell it and I guarantee you that you will buy it!
In the grocery store, a litre of green gold costs about 23 euros ($36). It won’t be as fresh and it might even be mixed with vegetable oil! Buying it direct from the farmer, you pay about 17 euros/L ($27) and you get a pretty good sense of whether the person is the type to cheat by pouring in some canola oil. Personally, I think that an artist who spends 18 years pruning and contorting a single miniature tree isn’t the type to start cutting green gold with crappy oil to make a buck.
After bonsai-world, we drove 3½ hours into the hills of Slovenia. Our CS request had been accepted and we were invited to stay in a “wine house” right by the Croatian border and not far from Italy. The closer we got, the more I had that familiar sinking feeling. What had we gotten ourselves into? We were too tired to meet new people and spend the evening socializing. Would we be sleeping on the floor? Would we have to drive up lethal mountain roads? What if we had nothing in common with our hosts?
As soon as we arrived, all doubts disappeared, as they always do. We were greeted by a lovely, English-speaking family. They had two children the same ages as our two youngest. Both sets of grandparents showed up to check us out. They only spoke Slovenian but touched us right away by giving us a plate of homemade squares they had baked for us. We sat outside and ate grilled pork and peppers and drank homemade white wine. We had a beautiful view with Croatia just one hill over. Church bells started ringing, the sun was shining and life was perfect.
Except we still hadn’t been inside and had no idea what the arrangements were. After dinner, our hosts showed us around and we became more astonished with every minute of the tour.
First we were shown the ground floor – a single room with kitchen and seating area. Simple, comfortable and spotless as everything else would turn out to be. We were shown the homemade jams, prosciutto, salamis they had made and told to eat whatever we wanted. Then we were taken into the cold storage and shown the various tanks of wine (dry red, dry white, sweet white) and told to drink whatever we wanted. We were told that if someone biked by or hiked past, it was polite to ask the person to come in for a quick chat and a glass of wine. We were told to feel free to use the tanks of wine/cured meats for this purpose. We were told that we would probably have more visitors than usual since people would be curious to meet us.
We went upstairs and were shown the bathroom and single large bedroom with bunk beds and two sofa beds. The bedroom had a woodstove and a balcony with a breathtaking view. We were shown where the wood was stored and told to use whatever we wanted. All the water in the wine-house is rain water that is filtered repeatedly until it is potable.
Our tour continued outdoors. We saw the fruit trees (peach, pear, apple) and were told to eat whatever we wanted. We visited the small vineyard and learned a lot about viniculture.
We discovered that the family lives in a home fifteen kilometres away. They come here on weekends and in the summer to relax and hang out with friends. They told us about some of the things we could do in the area: hiking, swimming in the river, visiting the firefighters museum. We listened in awe as our host told us of the places he had been and climbed – Morocco, India, Mount Everest Base Camp to name just a few. Then our hosts told us we could stay as long as we wanted, gave us the key and bid us good-bye. We decided to stay for 6 days. I think Fahbio and I would have been happy to stay here forever but we already had an engagement in Zagreb on Friday.
As soon as they had left, Fahbio said, “I can’t believe what they are doing for us.” I understood exactly what he meant. I am repeatedly astounded by the kindness and grace we’ve been shown and have come to the conclusion that travellers have a natural affinity with fellow travellers that transcends financial status, religion, citizenship and much else.
Last night we had the most spectacular lightening storm and this morning we woke to steady rain. The kids were happy to hear that we would have a day in front of the fire reading Harry Potter.
Happy Canada Day!!