Monday, July 2, 2012

Chocolate, Riegersburg Castle, and Sailing

Friday June 29th, 2012

Friday at about noon I left for the Zotter chocolate factory in a car with one of my austrian father's co-workers (no room left in the austrian family car). It was at least a couple hours drive but I got to spend part of the drive with a very cute one and half year old in the back seat.

The Zotter brand is a Austrian brand and prides itself not only on its unusual chocolate flavors but careful control from 'bean to bar'. The person who founded the company, Zotter, is still very involved in the factory and works on the floor (I think I spied him as we left as he was checking out an out of order bathroom).

The Zotter chocolate factory is a little east of Graz, the second biggest city of Austria (Vienna being the biggest), which boasts a population of about 254,000 people. Taking a look at the map below you can see the road we traveled which almost directly took us to the factory. The same road would be followed up to the north if we had wanted to go to Vienna. As we passed Graz the person driving the car mentioned that the famed white horses of Vienna are actually born and raised in Graz.

It was interesting watching the parenting of the one and a half year old girl. She slept most of the way on the road but the last half hour of the trip she began to fuss as we were a little lost on back roads. The parents simply pulled over the car and one sat in the back with her to sing and play with her in German while the other pulled out the GPS. It seemed a very calm way to deal with the situation and in fact I have so far never witnessed a Austrian parent yell at their child even when they are being extremely difficult.

Map to give you an idea of where Villach (close to my home Sattendorf is) in comparison to previously visted Klagenfurt and the big city Graz (courtesy of google maps). The Zotter chocolate factory is in the Styria region of Austria compared to the region of Villach and Klagenfurt which is the Carinthia region.

We arrived at the Zotter chocolate factory where one side of the building was a large store with all their selections and the other side being the official factory. As my group gathered for the tour we were lead into a room to wait. The Zotter company had an interesting array of artwork they use for branding and chocolate wrappers. The artwork reminded me of South America although I could be totally wrong on the origin of inspiration.

Front of Zotter chocolate factory

Inside where tour starts

Interesting artwork for chocolate wrappers
 We were lead into a room for a short video on the chocolate. Later we would be let loose into a part of the factory put on exhibit for us and I would have an audio guide in English I could listen to but it was mostly on the chocolate process and the emphasis that they were a fair-trade company (sounded a little bit like advertising, wasn't quite as interesting as tasting the chocolate). We were all given spoons (kind of like pho spoons for those of you familiar with pho) for chocolate tasting.

Room where they showed us a short video on chocolate and Zotter (in german). Is that underwear on the ceiling? O_o

It is female underwear on the ceiling! When I asked my companions if they knew why it was up there they joked "All of Austria is like that!" then they said they didn't know why and it wasn't explained later.... maybe the initial joke had some truth to it?

My spoon for chocolate
 Now some pictures of the factory for you:

Some machinery in the factory

Idea table for chocolate?

Little waterfalls with spigots at the bottom for test tasting

Rolling the chocolate?

A wall of different types of chocolate  in fountains with spigots at the bottom. I think these could be put to good use at my dorm at UW.
Some interesting parts of the tour was the hot chocolate station at the top of the building. Zotter has hot chocolate but not in packets. They have hot chocolate as a form of small chocolate bars that you whisk in to warm milk. The room I was in had a conveyor belt where you could pick of a hot chocolate bar then go off to a station where they had some hot milk you could whisk the chocolate in. It was actually quite fabulous and shortly after that I ran into some of there 'balleros' which are balls of chocolate with nuts or fruit inside.

After the tour I stopped by the store and bought some balleros for my mother (with walnuts and almonds) and some rum/coconut chocolate for myself (early on in the tour I quickly learned through test tasting that 'kokos' was german for coconut). I also have some ginger & coconut hot chocolate to try when I get back home to Seattle.

Outside Zotters also had a sort of animal zoo where they had cows, goats, chickens, turkeys, etc. The kids in the group ran around and burned off some energy before we went to our hotel. It was very hot (up to the high 80s (F)) and we were a bit tired.

Chapel (?) across the street from the chocolate factory

At the cemetery for chocolate ideas. Apparently they tried peanuts and ketchup as a chocolate at one time?

Our hotel was in Riegersburg and it was a very short drive from the chocolate factory.

Riegersburg location in comparison to Zotter Chocolate factory (courtesy of google maps).

I actually had a single room that had a shower/bathroom, a bed, couch, tv, and a closet area by the entryway to the room (separated off from the main room by another door). The bedding you see on the bed is very typical to what I have experienced in Austria. The t.v. turned out to be all in German but surprisingly a lot of U.S. shows like 'Two and a half men' (Charlie Sheen version).

My room in the hotel. I was in a single which was actually quite nice although the window didn't really open.

I even had a t.v. and couch. Behind me there was a small bathroom and even a large closet area with a door separating it from the rest of the room.
 We ended up going out for dinner to a nice winery/restaurant place called Bernhart (?). Its specialty seemed to be ham.

Bernhart restaurant is the red A, Riegersburg where the castle and hotel are circled, and the Zotter Chocolate factory is the purple/green markers (courtesy of google maps).

We ended up doing platter style with everyone pulling of the platters what they wanted to eat. We had to wait awhile before our order came through and so I took some photos around the winery/restaurant.
This cat (not sure if he belongs to the winery or is a random citizen of the area) obviously knows where the action is.

View from restaurant. Can see the main village of Riegersburg with church.

View of Castle Riegersburg which I will see tomorrow

Dinner arrived and everybody dug in. The motto was 'eat as much as you want', the implication being that if you didn't eat to your satisfaction is was your own fault.

Dinner! Lots and lots of ham (in german: Schinken). With some cheese and egg.

Some salad with feta and more egg. Also had a type of dressing.
 I've noticed that a lot of Austrians mix carbonated water with their wine and hard cider. I'm not sure if its for taste or an aesthetic. We also had carbonated water that was mixed with holunderbluten syrup (from a flower? took me about three days to figure out what exactly the beverage consisted of) which seemed very popular with the kids and adults in general.

A type of cider?

Of course after dinner you must have a dessert! Some ordered tiramisu and I got to sample it. It tasted different from tiramisu I have eaten before. I didn't get any sense of ladyfingers or liquor in the dessert. Just seemed like a lot of cream. Also a platter of different cakes were brought out and the table struggle to finish off the deserts after such a big meal. During desserts a very drunk man started to talk to our table and many at the table seemed amused. At one point the man tried to talk to me in German and I told him in German that 'I speak English.' He then proceeded to say something that was not in English which one of my tablemates commented on and the drunk man proudly proclaimed he was speaking Scottish.... He continued to talk to our table and later would revisit us. I asked one of my tablemates what he was talking about and they said mostly his hometown with a slight laugh. Yes, a typical drunk....


Cake and other desserts. The cake tasted like doughnut pastry.

We returned to the hotel and after the kids were put to bed the adults went to a bar across the street to drink a little.

Village Riegersburg at night. Very quiet. You can see the church at the top of the road.

Some late night wine (the back of the bottle)

Front of bottle (riesling)
I ended up going to bed around midnight but it was a torture of a night with the heat and humidity. It was probably the most unrestful sleep I have ever had and most of my companions seemed to agree the next morning.

Saturday June 30th, 2012

Another hot day that would climb up to just 90 (F). We started out the day with a simple breakfast the hotel provided in their restaurant. We then started the walk up with a guide to the castle stopping at a church in town. I didn't catch the name of the church (St. Martin of the South?) but then we began th long climb up to the castle. The tour turned out to be in German so I will have to rely on several travel sources to give you a history of the castle:

"First constructed in the 11th century in the strategically important border region of the Austrian empire built on an ancient volcano that is no longer active. The defensive wall around the fortress is three kilometers long. The castle has two moats that are each equipped with a drawbridge and the second inner moat actually still has water in it. The name of the Riegersburg fortress was originally mentioned in 1138 as “Ruotkerspurch”, which actually means “RĂ¼diger’s castle”, so the fortress originally belonged to an aristocrat by that name.

The Imperial Count Sigmund von Hardegg (1539-1599) bought the fortress in 1568 from the Lords of Eitzingen who owned it since already 1441. On the foundations of the fortress he let built a castle with pillars on moulds and he settled there not only his residence but also the administration center of the County of Hardegg. In order to finalize the negociations with the creditors, the heir (son of count Sigmund; who had too much debt), Count Julius von Hardegg (1594-1684) sold the County of Hardegg and Riegersburg to the Counts of Saint Julien Wallsee (under age; their father Henri Guyard was brother-in-law to Count Julius). In 1730 the family sold the property to Count Sigismund von Khevenhüller (again the Khevenhullers... they always seem to pop up).

In those days the castle of Riegersburg was mainly in bad conditions and could not be lived in. Therefore big restoration works had to be done rapidly. They lasted for many years (1699-1761). And so the ancient castle of Riegersburg got his splendid shape still existing now-a-days, of an impressive Baroque Palace. It underwent major reconstruction during the late 16th century to include late Renaissance architectural features. The large ceremonial rooms and the arcade in the inner courtyard date back to this era.

Two very colourful female characters are associated with the history of this fortress. The first one was Baroness Elisabeth Katharina von Galler (1607 to 1672) who was the lady of the castle from 1648 to 1672. In a time of very traditional male-female role expectations the “Galllerin” was a very unconventional character and strayed from the usual norms. Elisabeth, as the sole heiress of the fortress, would have had to relinquish any property ownership to her husband, but she refused to comply. Even in her prenuptial agreement she ensured the right to decide over her property herself. Baroness Elisabeth von Galler initiated a complete reconstruction of the fortress which included the stunning baroque White Hall as well as the construction of the numerous bastions, gates and the extensive walls surrounding the castle. Her husband incurred major debt and in 1649 she paid him out with a substantial sum of money and got rid of him. Altogether Baroness von Galler was married three times and involved in several legal battles with her husbands, and local clergy.

The other interesting female character is Katharina Paldauf who was an employee of Baroness von Galler for whom she started working at 20 years of age. From 1673 to 1675 she got embroiled in the Feldbach Witch Trial and was accused of having manipulated weather and participated in witch Sabbaths.The legends also say that she was able to grow roses in winter, a talent that earned her the moniker “the flower witch”. She was presumably executed in 1675. 

The castle today is owned by the Liechtenstein family, an aristocratic family that has been living at this castle since 1972."


Inside of church (nice and cool)

Beginning of pathway to castle above the church

Where we are headed

Our Austrian guide who met us at the hotel

View of the landscape part of the way up

Map of different pathways around Castle Riegersburg. Apparently they have some caves and you can use ropes and climbing equipment to look at them.

More landscape on the way up

Pathway carved out of the rock

Can you see the grooves from carts?

More landscape

Getting there but still not all the way up

In the distance, you can just see the castle

Bridge to the castle outer wall

Above gateway/entrance into Castle Riegersburg

To the right of the gate

Inside the castle walls

Pretty colors, doorway and window

Inner moat to the second gateway into the castle (with Koi fish in the moat?!)

I think this is about entrance and admission into the castle. It seems quite complicated though. (also seems that you could take a lift instead if you didn't want to walk all the way up the mountain/'hill')

I think technically once we entered the official tour of Riegersburg (inside inner castle) I was suppose to buy a 2 euro sticker that would allow me to take photos. However I didn't realize this until partway through, but no one seemed to stop me? I will have to be careful and take more notice the next time I tour a castle on the rules of photography.

Riegersburg's well (perhaps there was more than one well but this was the only one I saw)

Inner courtyard where well was located

Ceiling in one of the rooms

Another ceiling. A circular room which was quite beautiful.

400 year old wooden doors (one of many in the castle). Beautifully and intricate workmanship on the wood

Close up view of the woodwork on one of the doors

More intricate ceilings

Last room in tour. Very fancy plaster work?

Closer view of artwork

View from room of the landscape

Floor in the room, old tiles

Main piece of artwork on the ceiling

Amazing amount of focus on detail. No such thing as a simple staircase, as decoration under the stairwell.
 After the tour we walked back down to the hotel to the restaurant area. As we entered the building I noticed a chalkboard sign with 'spargel' written on it. Very excited I waited until I received the menu and sure enough there was a insert with food containing 'spargel' (German for asparagus) listed.

Oh my goodness! It is the famed spargel (asparagus)! Here are all the different asparagus choices this restaurant offered.

I ended up going with the soup option which seemed promising.

My Pfiffiges-Spargelcremesuppchen mit Shrimps and Croutons (roughly translated to a 'clever asparagus cream soup with shrimps and croutons') all for a simple 3.90 euros. I didn't find any shrimp in my soup so I'm assuming it was blended with the asparagus for the soup. And yes that is whipcream on top of the soup. And the croutons were more like garlic bread pieces (so not the dehydrated croutons we put on salads back in the U.S.). VERY GOOD even with the surprising addition of whip cream! I would recommend it if you get the chance. Asparagus is treated as a seasonal food though and asparagus soups most likely vary with the restaurant.

Apple Strudel (not like any kind I have had in the U.S.)!

After a fabulous lunch we got packed up and headed out to drive back to Sattendorf. I was technically driven to Klagenfurt then picked up my austrian family there but I ended up in Sattendorf at the end of the day.

Sign of hotel as we got ready to leave. I believe it says "hotel Gasthof Schmankerlladen' but when I googled it I couldn't find any online reference to it.

Since it was still hot when we got back to Sattendorf we went down to the lake to cool off.

Evening at the lake.

Sunday (yesterday) July 1st, 2012

Saturday was another hot day with temperatures just touching 90 (F) again. My austrian family got out the sailing boat and I had the opportunity to go out with them on their second trip of the day. Sailing seems quite peaceful when you aren't fussing with the ropes and I can see the appeal of it as a sport.

The day was mostly spent swimming and trying to cool off from the heat.

Sailboat up and ready to go

Austrian father, sister, and brother ready to test out the new sails.

Monday (today) July 2nd, 2012

Today started out very muggy and warm, and while I toyed with the idea of visiting the castle in Villach I decided to spend the morning planning a trip to Salzburg (birthplace of Mozart, Sound of Music, etc.). I did end up leaving briefly in the morning to drive to the Spar to pick up some bread (the hardest part was backing out of the spiral driveway at the house) and then thunderstorms rolled in at about noon.

It looks like tomorrow I will leave Sattendorf (St. Urban station train leaves at 6:49 am) around 6:30 am and arrive in Salzburg a little before 10 am (have to transfer in Villach). I plan on visiting the castle Festung as well as the Salzburg Museum. If I have time I will stop by the Dom but since I have the opportunity to stay in Hallein (close to Salzburg) overnight I will have a little wiggle room to visit other things the next day. Its been suggested to me to try the Mozart Balls which are a type of chocolate confection so I will also have to locate a confectioner or baker. :D

I don't know if I will have internet in Hallein so I probably won't be able to be in contact with anyone until Wednesday evening (for you wednesday morning, nine hours time difference from west coast of U.S.). Ciao!

For some perspective (courtesy of google maps).

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