Onward to Austria

One of the stars of Horror Story, Hasan Zaidi has an annual date with his wife’s native country, Austria. Read on to find out about his most recent trip there.

I travelled around Europe extensively when I was in college, but the first time I took a trip to Austria was for a very special reason – I went to meet my soon-to-be wife Christina’s parents during Christmas to ask for their daughter’s hand in marriage. Since I hadn’t been to Austria before and thoroughly enjoyed it, it became a yearly affair. The place still hasn’t lost its charm; it still has so much to offer, so many things I haven’t seen and done before.

Since Christina’s parents are winemakers, they’re situated in Europe’s best red wine region – an hour away from Vienna, on the border with Hungary. Italy and Germany are just three hours away in either direction, making it one of the best places to live. Although I love travelling alone and have backpacked all over the UK, I usually travel to Austria with Christina.

Once you land in Vienna, it’s an hour’s drive to Purgenland, the wine-growing area where my in-laws live. The lovely little village with a population of about 500 is one of many located just a short distance from one another, so that it’s easy travel to neighbouring villages to enjoy their festivities. After celebrating Christmas with wine and music, we went to Salzburg, a place known for its history and classical music. Many of the big composers – like Beethoven, Mozart, and Hayden – hail from Austria.

There’s a remarkable freshwater lake on the way to Salzburg called Fuschl, all around which freshwater fish are smoked. What a delicious treat – the best smoked fish I’ve ever had! Another sightseeing spot on the way to Salzburg is the place where it is believed Jesus Christ arrived for the first time when he came to Europe.

We then headed to Graz, stopping at Passau, another wine-growing region famous for its red wines. We drove along the Danube, the longest river in Europe, and saw a lot of cruise ships sailing on its crystal-clear waters. The best thing about Graz is that most of city is on bicycles. Bike trails can be found everywhere – lovely ones at that! The most interesting part is that the bikes are available for free and, once done, you can simply leave them on one of the many bike stands throughout the city.
One of the largest cities in Austria, Graz has many interesting museums and castles. We were there for three days and stayed with local friends who took us to the best eateries and pubs in the area, one of the ones we went to being a rum and cigar pub. Practically every kind of rum and cigar from across the globe was on offer; as a big cigar buff, I really loved this place.

Our next stop was Linz, a 14th century industrial town where we had to make a wine presentation – my first one! We finally reached Vienna, a beautiful city I had never before had the opportunity of experiencing. They have huge fruit and food markets where one can eat what one desires. The music playing made for a lively afternoon – there’s such a joyous vibe in that city.
We went to see Schonbrunn Palace, which has some beautiful gardens. Concerts take place on the hill there – it’s the place where I proposed to Christina. There’s also a magical music museum that showcases the history of almost everything related to music, as well as the very old St. Stephen’s Cathedral. There’s something very dark and gothic about it, yet it provides a haunting peace.

The cathedral is in the middle of Kärntner Strasse, an old shopping district alive with traditional Austrian cultural shops as well as those of modern brands. On it is one of the largest ice cream parlours in the world – there were over an astounding 400 flavours from which to choose! Since we went around Christmas, we got to be part of the amazing Kris Kindle market – a night bazaar that takes place during the Yuletide season. You get glue wine made from boiled berries, which is all the more satiating thanks to the nippy weather. I visited a lot of breweries, some of which have been in the beer business since the 16th century. They are very welcoming and let you taste different brews.

Since I was staying with Christina’s parents in their village of winemakers, we headed to the local pub after Christmas mass with the farmers. We played some fun drinking games and, while we were getting happy inside, were unaware that it was snowing outside. We came out to find a gorgeous, white Christmas. Christina’s parents’ house has orchards of apples, cherries, plums, and apricots.

In the morning, we took out baskets to pick fresh fruits for breakfast.
Austrian culture is very merry; people stick to their routines, but at the end of the day they want everyone to have a good time. What is most striking is that in all this beauty, there is routine. The Austrians have a way of appreciating everything so that they get the best out of life, be it through their music or their food and drink.

I really loved my first skiing experience. The small skiing huts served schnapps, which helped when I fell quite a few times! In subzero weather with the cold wind in my face, warm alcohol in my system, surrounded by the pure white of snow – sliding down a slope felt amazing.

I’ve been a regular visitor to Austria for seven years, and I can’t get enough! I’ve learnt all the steps to make wine, from harvesting to bottling, and I have been to several wine festivals. Since it’s my wife’s home country, I look forward to going back there and building more wonderful memories.     – Hasan